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Lebanon and the Monster of Bankruptcy

Lebanon and the Monster of Bankruptcy

Saturday, 7 December, 2019 - 13:00

Last Wednesday, President Michel Aoun announced that parliamentary consultations would take place on Monday, thereby deferring them for five more days, 34 days after the government resigned, and 47 days after the revolution began. This happened after the end of the third meeting between Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, the latter representing the Shiite duo that has been insisting for two weeks on rejecting the proposed name of Samir Khatib for Prime Minister. All of this took place before Dany Abu Haidar, a Lebanese citizen, who took his own life because of poverty and inability to support his family, was buried.

What will have changed between last Wednesday and this Monday?

Nothing at the level of the regime and the government formation facing an economic crisis that has ushered a stage of bankruptcy and collapse. There is no clear path for either the appointment of Samir Khatib nor for the return of Saad Hariri after the political settlement that led to Michel Aoun’s presidential election collapsed. The uprising, which rejects a non-technocratic government and the inclusion of the same politicians who bankrupted the country, adds to this.

So, where can we go from here?

It is not enough to talk about an economic path that leads to panic, if not to hell, after the capital control measures taken that limited cash withdrawals from banks to USD300 per week and prevented transfers overseas, and after the valid fears of ‘haircuts’ on deposits.

It is not enough to talk about a political path that leads to more complications, especially after the bickering between Aoun and the former PMs who have repeatedly accused him of disregarding the constitution and trying to return to a time before the Taef Agreement. These accusations were launched after the President had been appointing ministers before choosing their PM. In response to popular demands to abide by the constitution, it was stated that “The President is using his constitutional rights by binding the consultations to a designation of a PM and the formation of a new government to prevent the country from descending into a prolonged vacuum.”

The dispute around this continued after the alliance between Aoun and the Shite duo, upon Hariri’s insistence on the formation of a technocratic government to meet the demands of the uprising, attempted to convince Hariri to commit political suicide. They pushed him to support Mohammad Safadi’s candidacy, then Samir Khatib, announce his support in a written statement, get the approval of the Mufti, the former PMs, and to take part in this government.

After Hariri rejected the temptations and pressures to head a techno-political government which would maintain Hezbollah’s dominance in political decision-making in the executive authority, it became clear that the alliance between Aoun and the Shiite duo, i.e., Hezbollah and Amal Movement, insist on having him for several reasons. First, he is economically useful, as he can work on reactivating the CEDRE Conference aid. Second, he is a local and regional Sunni power, which is important, especially during these difficult times when Hezbollah is subjected to severe foreign pressure, sanctions, and is classified as a terrorist organization by the US. Third, his approval of a techno-political government would help Hezbollah overcome the uprising and quell the protests it has produced from Tyre and Nabatieh to Baalbeck. This is especially important as it is happening in parallel with violent disturbances in Iran and Iraq; in the latter, the protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate three times in Najaf while chanting, “Iran out out” despite the violent repression that they faced.

Before Aoun announced Monday as the date for the parliamentary consultations, the exchanges between him and the former PMs were heated. In a statement released by former PMs Fouad Siniora, Tammam Salam, and Najib Miqati, they said, “We are alarmed by the serious violation of the Taef Agreement in its letter and spirit, and we are alarmed by the assault on the parliamentary authority to designate a PM through binding parliamentary consultations conducted by the President and the assault on the authority of the designated PM by naming what is being called a possible PM.”

Aoun responded with a statement that repeated what he has been saying for the last month. He claims the consultations that he is doing are not a violation of the constitution and the Taef accord. He accused the former PMs of not realizing the negative consequences of accelerating consultations on the country’s general situation and national unity.

All of this comes after Hariri’s statement last week, where he explicitly accused Aoun of chronically denying the gravity of the situation the country is in. That is in terms of the popular uprising and its legitimate demands to form a technocratic government, the crippling economic crisis that has put the country on the brink of collapse, and the attempts to accuse him of discarding candidates for premiership other than him. In light of these irresponsible practices, he responded to Aoun’s famous slogan that he clung to and kept the country in presidential vacuum for two and a half years “either me or no one” with the slogan “Not me, but someone else”!

The uprising has been heightened after the number of suicides due to poverty has increased. It has rejected Samir Khatib’s candidacy raising the slogan “All of them means all of them”, which is being chanted now in Iraq.

This implies the necessity of overthrowing the entire corrupt political elite. The regime and the Shiite duo have presented a new slogan in opposition, “All of us means all of us in government.” This is related to what Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad had announced about there being no alternative to a national unity government, i.e., duplicating the current cabinet, other than remaining under a caretaker government for a very long time. This means rejecting all of the uprising’s demands and maintaining the regime which rebels accuse of being corrupt and plundering public funds, at a time where Lebanon has entered real bankruptcy and the threat of complete collapse.

Last Thursday, Siniora commented on Samir Khatib’s candidacy, saying “This man’s character and his ethics are one thing, but his suitability for this exceptional stage is something else.” When asked whether he would possibly name him in the consultations, he answered, “It is only possible to predict what a reasonable person would do, as for others, that is something else.” This implies that whoever is reasonable will not name Khatib.

This leads to a very confusing question:

What crisis will birth a government? Will it emerge out of a resolution of the dispute between the Sunni politicians and the alliance between Aoun and the Shiite duo? Or will come after the revolution is quashed so that a techno-political government is formed despite the widespread outrage stemming from the series of suicides that have taken place recently, such as George Zreik burning himself alive for not being able to pay his daughter’s school fees, Naji Fliti hanging himself for not being able to buy a LBP1,000 thyme manoushe for his daughter, Dany Abou Haidar taking his own life last Wednesday for not being able to support his family, and a fourth citizen committing suicide on Thursday after another citizen tried to burn himself alive in Akkar because of financial pressure?

The upcoming dates assigned for consultations are the last hope for Hariri’s approval. Still, it appears that the parliamentary alliance between Aoun and the Shiite duo, which includes 42 MPs, will be maintained until the end of the consultations in order to guarantee that Aoun remains in charge and push for a government that serves the interests of that alliance.

But what do we do with the revolution and the rebels? How do we confront the monster of bankruptcy in a country where citizens take their own lives because they are unable to buy a manoushe? How do we confront it in a country where people rush to withdraw USD300 while TV channels compete to uncover scandals of theft and plunder, a country whose debt has reached USD100 billion while the amount that has been looted by politicians, stored in offshore European banks, exceeds USD320 billion?

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