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A Suicidal Task for a Normal Government

A Suicidal Task for a Normal Government

Friday, 14 February, 2020 - 12:15
Elias Harfoush
Lebanese writer and journalist

Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s task seems just like trying to salvage a drowning person from the bottom of the ocean. No doubt that he and the members of his cabinet are aware of the difficulty of their responsibility.

Diab was explicit while discussing the situation Lebanon is going through, and he affirmed the “danger of total collapse if it is not addressed with quick and painful procedures”. He likened the crisis to “a rolling ball of fire”.

It is possible to describe the members of Diab’s government as suicidal. Who dares to carry a responsibility of this magnitude and degree of complexity in a stage that can be described as historical if not suicidal? Who would pursue a seat in the cabinet that would not have been available to him under normal circumstances?

If we wanted to assume good intentions and considered these men and women in the cabinet suicidal who have bravely taken it upon themselves to create this miracle of rescue and that they were the people the country was looking for to achieve that, then the question remains whether the necessary tools to accomplish this task are available. How could one salvage a country that is divided like Lebanon today? It is not only divided among its politicians but also state institutions, including this government and most people.

A period like this one needs a national unity government whose only concern is to revive the economy and reform the financial situation. Where will such national unity come from while political parties are so hostile to each other, with each side waiting for the other to fail in order to invest their failure and compete for leadership and popular power?

Where could it come from while the effects of this deep conflict among politicians, that has reached the point of assassinations as February 14 reminds us today, are still fresh in our minds, and the criminals still free and those responsible for them are represented in both government and parliament? Where could this national unity come from while the country suffers a tsunami of unprecedented degrees of sectarianism even during the darkest days of the civil war were nonexistent? It reached a point that one of the members of parliament representing the people does not hesitate to assault a citizen for eating in an area of a different sect?

The crisis that Lebanon is facing today is deep and complex. It is fair to say that the solutions that Hassan Diab is proposing in his government’s statement are pragmatic, specific and have exact timeframes that range from short-term to long-term. However, for these solutions to work, they need to confront at least three facts. First, the cabinet members lack the necessary political experience considering that most of them are academics who lack the ability to impose necessarily painful solutions because they don’t have a popular support for their decisions.

On top of this, there is, of course, the accusation that the popular movement is directing to Diab’s government that it belongs to traditional political forces, which protesters are seeking to overthrow, and that it is trying to reproduce a new polished version of the same old political elite. Based on this, there were large protests during the day of the session meant to grant the parliament’s vote of confidence to the government under the slogan “No Confidence”.

The second obstacle that the government is facing is the test of receiving foreign aid. Without assistance from the likes of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and several European governments, there is fear that the rescue plan will just be ink on paper because it cannot be otherwise funded. In a country where public debt has reached $100 billion while half of the revenues are dedicated to paying only the interest on this debt, the conditions for foreign aid will be tough and painful. Lebanon’s inability to pay its dues in time means it is announcing bankruptcy and losing trust in its financial situation and its banking sector.

In addition, the government has been politically categorized as to belonging to only one group, which is dominant in power as a result of the alliance between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement alongside Amal Movement. While the Prime Minister insists that his government is not politicized despite the political affiliations of its members, there is still a need to convince the countries that give aid that this is true, while the West’s sanctions on Iran escalate, and consequently on Hezbollah.

The third obstacle that will face any economic and financial reform process is the absence of a national culture that puts public interest over individual ones. This applies to both officials and citizens. This useless and bloated public sector due to arbitrary employments, the predominant culture of bribery that Lebanese have to go through without protest in order to compete administrative transactions, the generalized corruption in all domains and the mutual looting that extends into all aspects of daily life, tax evasion, and all of these accumulated problems have taken the country to bankruptcy.

Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that the responsibility for reaching this miserable point is shared. Consequently, carrying the burdens of rescue should also be shared. Not only that but more importantly, the mentality that pushes the Lebanese citizen to see any public fund as amenable for looting needs to change. This mentality, as previously mentioned, is not limited to politicians, but includes most employees in the public service sector who see their job as nothing more than a source of personal benefit and quick looting of funds. Hassan Diab and his government are facing a suicidal task but the cabinet is the last possibility for rescue. The days of giving chances to a country that does not know how to use them are over.

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