| 23 April 2024, Tuesday |

The world watches as Lebanon collapses

Lebanon is collapsing economically, politically and socially. The government is crippled, and institutions are in a state of chaos, a report published by Albuquerque Journal said on Monday.

As a result, Lebanese politicians – in particular President Michel Aoun, caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah, and Amal’s leader and Speaker Nabih Berri – are responsible for Lebanon’s current debacle and should be held to account.

Lebanon cannot be saved as a state unless influential external actors decide to interfere and create conditions that could pull the country back from the abyss. Using outside influence now is more urgent than ever.

Sectarian politics in Lebanon has allowed national politicians to pursue their narrow interests to the detriment of the country. Alliances have been formed, for instance between the Maronite president and the Shi’ite Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, in order to maximize their control of the national purse, expand their wealth, and keep their armed militias well-funded.

The extravagant lifestyles of the political elite attests to this corruption, and the people are aware of it. If these conditions are allowed to drag on, Lebanon could become bankrupt within a two-year period, which would allow  terrorist groups and neighboring states to take advantage of the country’s instability.

This comes as Hezbollah has used its military and financial resources from Syria and Iran to cow leaders of other Lebanese parties to its will, in particular on cabinet formation and budgetary allocations.

The ongoing political paralysis and inability to form a new cabinet are pushing Lebanon toward meltdown and disintegration.

Citizens have no money to buy groceries, and when they do, the Lebanese currency, the lira, is becoming almost worthless. Brawls are now commonplace in markets, at banks, in government offices and on the streets.

The recent U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Hunger Hotspots report sheds light on the dire hunger and “catastrophic famine” situation in Lebanon. “Civil unrest and violent clashes could become more frequent,” the FAO report warned.

Brain drain is another worrisome casualty of Lebanon’s deteriorating economic situation. Many professionals who have the means or who hold a dual citizenship from Western countries and have close relatives living in these countries are leaving in droves. While the bottom 60% of Lebanese society is struggling to put food on the table, the professional stratum of society is immigrating and taking all of their expertise with them.

As Lebanon loses this precious creative human capital, it slowly begins to resemble several poor failed states in the Middle East region and beyond.

The famed bustling urban life of Beirut is rapidly vanishing except for the thin upper crust of the city. With the disappearance of the vibrant commerce and prosperity – the hallmark of Lebanon in previous decades – the country increasingly resembles a banana republic.

If external powers – especially the United States, the European Union, Britain, Canada and Australia – believe that Lebanon’s stability remains a key ingredient in the regional geopolitical context, they should embark on a bold strategy to prevent the country from becoming a failed state. In case the U.N. Security Council decides against a temporary Trusteeship Council for Lebanon, the EU+4 could be an efficacious substitute.

Washington’s envisioned involvement in this multinational initiative is based on the assumption that Lebanon’s meltdown will have a destabilizing ripple effect throughout the region. Terrorist groups and their regional affiliates, plus potentially nefarious state actors in the neighborhood, will rush in to fill the ensuing vacuum, which would be inimical to U.S. regional interests.

In the short-term, the EU+4 group should establish a multibillion-dollar international fund to help the Lebanese economy recover to be disbursed through a special Economic Council for Lebanon, which would be created by the EU+4. Such a council would consist of non-political Lebanese technocrats, in addition to representatives from the EU+4 group.

Also in the short-term, the EU+4 must work with Lebanese professionals and technocrats to form a new cabinet of distinguished technocrats, academics and business people with the sole purpose of reviving the economy and employment.

In the long-term, the EU+4 will have to address the confessional or sectarian basis of governance in Lebanon, which has been a major root cause of the country’s endemic corruption. The EU+4’s designated emissary for Lebanon should embark on a series of meetings to explore various modalities for the future governance of Lebanon.

Early in its modern history, the confessional system helped stabilize the country and created a functioning system of government. The economic, demographic and political changes in recent decades, nonetheless, have rendered the confessional system obsolete. It must be changed if Lebanon is to be saved.