Lebanon’s economy is dangerously close to collapse and political bickering over shares in a new Cabinet is threatening to scuttle pledges worth $11 billion by international donors.
Of immediate concern is the future of $11 billion in loans and grants pledged by international donors at a meeting in Paris in April, which Lebanon risks losing if no Cabinet is in place soon to unlock the funds and approve reforms that were set as conditions by the donors and which have been delayed for years.
The new government was on the verge of formation on October 29 after the Lebanese Forces accepted the portfolios that were assigned to it but a last-minute hurdle over the representation of pro-Hezbullah Sunni MPs surfaced.
Hezbollah demanded that six Sunni lawmakers allied with the Shiite group and opposed to PM designate Saad Hariri be included in his Cabinet — something that Hariri, the country’s top Sunni Muslim leader, categorically rejects and so did Lebanese president Michel Aoun even though he is allied with Hezbollah.
The six MPs are not a bloc of their own, since each ran on a different list in the last May election.
Hezbollah continues to insist on including its Sunni allies in the cabinet and for this reason the impasse continues and no cabinet may be formed anytime soon and the Lebanese economy could collapse as a result of that ,
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai announced Sunday that “no one has the right” to obstruct the formation of the new government.
“No matter what the reasons might be, no one has the right to obstruct the formation of the government over personal or partisan demands,” al-Rai said at Beirut airport upon his return from a visit to the Vatican.
“Those concerned about Lebanon would offer sacrifices,” al-Rai added.
His remarks came after the Vatican urged the Lebanese officials to resolve the hurdle
In the midst of this “bleak” Lebanese atmosphere, the Holy See’s issued warning to the Lebanese people urging them to preserve their country in the face of the challenges it may face, with emphasis on the Vatican and Pope Francis’s support for Lebanon and diversity, al Jamhouria daily reported
“I don’t want to draw pink pictures or tell you children stories, but where are you taking Lebanon, you are not envied for the situation you are in, be careful. You have to organize yourselves and your country to be able to face the great challenges ahead. The Holy See will remain supportive of Lebanon, but certainly does not have a magic wand,” the Vatican Foreign Minister Paul Richard Gallagher was quoted as saying.
Similarly Progressive Socialist Party Leader Walid Jumblatt on Saturday said a settlement is necessary in order to avoid collapse in light of frail efforts to form the government.
Referring to the latest concerns raised by Vatican Foreign Minister about the situation in Lebanon, Jumblatt said: “After the speech made by Vatican Foreign Minister in the presence of the Supreme Pontiff, away from narrow local considerations, the settlement is necessary whatever its bitterness in order to avoid collapse.”
Jumblatt earlier called Hezbollah’s demand ” the “Sunni invention. “
Hariri has rejected Hezbollah’s demand, announcing that he’d rather step down than give the aforementioned lawmakers a seat from his own share in the government.
Following Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah was very popular , but since its 2006 war with Israel and the subsequent events , Hezbollah ‘s popularity in Lebanon has suffered greatly. Other than the Shiites and Syria’s supporters in Lebanon few now trust Hezbollah.
At the end of the 1975-90 civil war all the Lebanese militia were disarmed but Hezbollah remained the only armed militia.
The UN backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted Hezbollah militants in the killing of former PM Rafik Hariri on Valentine’s Day 2005.
The massive, 1,000 kilogram, car bomb that killed Mr. Hariri as he traveled along Beirut’s fashionable seaside Corniche, left a crater 10 meters deep, knocked down several buildings and killed 21 other people, in addition to killing the billionaire tycoon who had rebuilt war-shattered Beirut.
in 2006 following its war with Israel , it tried and bring down the government of former PM Fouad Siniora. In 2008 Hezbollah pointed its guns against the Lebanese people when it occupied more than half of Beirut and tried but failed to occupy Mt Lebanon . In 2011 it brought down the government of PM Saad Hariri and reportedly used its arms to force progressive socialist party leader MP Walid Jumblatt and his parliamentary bloc to vote for their candidate Nagib Mikati as the new premier . .
In 2016 Hezbollah was accused of bombing the Blom Bank, one of the Lebanese banks that closed bank accounts held by people suspected of ties to the powerful Shi’ite group. Blom Bank ‘s action was in line with U.S. financial regulations targeting its finances. The law has triggered a standoff between Hezbollah and the central bank. The Lebanese central bank said it must comply with the U.S. Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA) , otherwise the Lebanese banking sector will be shut out of the international financial system. The bombing of the bank was preceded two hours earlier by a threat from Tehran in which Pars news Agency quoted Hezbollah officials threatening another May 7,2008 type attack.
Hezbollah’s current support for the Syrian regime , the Houthi rebels and Iran is a main concern for the Lebanese people. The other main concern is Hezbollah’s attacks against the Arab Gulf countries. Most of the investments in Lebanon and most of the tourism income came from these countries.
Lebanon’s public debt was estimated in 2017 to being over 150 percent of GDP, one of the highest such ratios in the world. Since 2017 the Lebanese economy has gotten much worse as a result of the budget deficits.
Ali Hussein a Lebanese analyst told Ya Libnan: “Hezbollah is trying hard to throw Lebanon under the bus. It doesn’t care about the Lebanese economy because it is funded by Iran”. Hezbollah gets its orders from Iran which obviously doesn’t want a government in Lebanon for now ” .
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