Lebanese army soldiers pass by protesters on the highway linking Beirut to north Lebanon, on October 19, 2019, one day after demonstrations swept through the eastern Mediterranean country in protest against dire economic conditions. Photo: Joseph Eid / AFP

Three months after the resignation of the government – a short time by Lebanese political standards – the Iran-proxy, Islamist group Hezbollah and its allies have managed to cobble together a new cabinet. But the news failed to end angry protests that precipitated then-prime minister Saad Hariri’s resignation. And while Hezbollah hoped that all eyes would be trained on the new cabinet and its unprecedented number of female ministers, what attracted attention instead was news that Britain, Colombia and Honduras had placed Hezbollah on their lists of terrorist organizations.

The roster of countries that consider Hezbollah a terrorist group has grown steadily, currently up to 17, including the US and seven other members of the Group of Twenty, in addition to the European Union, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Lebanon is a democracy where the will of the people counts for nothing, and where a mob of politicians organizes vast benefits for itself by playing footsie with an Islamist mafia that inflicts terror abroad and acts like a thug against ordinary Lebanese. Meanwhile, ordinary Lebanese are steadily being impoverished. (So, what’s the definition of a failed state again?)

Popular outrage broke out in September, a month after the currency, the lira, started sliding. Having in essence run out of foreign reserves, the central bank could not keep the lira’s peg to the US dollar. Two exchange rates then emerged: one official, the other on the black market. The Lebanese people saw the value of their wealth take a massive cut. They took to the streets again to protest, forcing the “national unity” cabinet to resign.

Protesters demanded an emergency cabinet formed of non-partisan experts. But Hezbollah, the power merchant of Lebanese politics, ignored the protesters, and even sent out its bullies to beat them up. When Hezbollah’s opponents in parliament insisted on taking popular demands into consideration, the party and its allies used their slim majority to form a government: a political rookie, Hassan Diab, was given a call, and he formed a cabinet with ministers representing the Hezbollah-led alliance.

But even with the new government, old problems persist. Indeed, no one wants any change to the status quo. An armed militia unaccountable to the state still runs amok, and as a result, the country’s economy remains supported at the margins of life by the remittances of Lebanese who have escaped unemployment for work abroad. (Who’d want to start a business – and build jobs – with a trigger-happy militia running around?)

Ghazi Wazni, the new finance minister, said the new government would not try to restore the value of the lira to its pre-devaluation level of 1,500 to the US dollar. Instead, it would work on stabilizing the currency at the current black-market level of 2,000 liras to the dollar, which means that Lebanon, under Hezbollah, has officially conceded the loss of one-third of the nation’s domestic wealth. Even the promised new exchange rate might prove elusive, as the central bank lacks enough reserves.

Nothing good can happen while Hezbollah runs its militia like a parallel army (only better armed, better provisioned, better almost everything). Economies are fueled by sentiment, and the only sentiments Hezbollah prompts are fear and loathing. (But fear is admittedly more powerful.)

For that matter, it isn’t as though Hezbollah actually has any idea of economics. Its chief, Hassan Nasrallah, has proposed that Lebanon might sell produce to Iraq and solicit investments from China. But despite the lira’s fall, Iraq can still (amazingly) find cheaper potatoes from Egypt and Turkey. As for China, a small impoverished market like that of Lebanon does not offer much promise. Besides, China already floods the Lebanese market with its exports, and there is little it can do to help Beirut overcome its economic hurdles. And there isn’t any more China can gain from Lebanon to entice it to invest.

As Lebanon’s parliament debates the new cabinet’s platform, on its way to giving it a vote of “confidence,” the country’s politics will remain irrelevant to its fate. Meanwhile, ordinary Lebanese live in enforced penitence for being citizens of a democracy where the ballot paper is worthless, the currency is plunging in value, and where a terrorist organization in thrall to Iran runs everything down to garbage collection (only it isn’t being collected).

In this, the third decade of the 21st century, has any polity in the ancient Near East and modern Middle East ever been so woefully run? It makes you think about the word “progress.”

This article was provided by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @hahussain.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *