Asharq Al-awsat English https://aawsat.com/english Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper http://feedly.com/icon.svg

A Blackhole Swallows Lebanon!

A Blackhole Swallows Lebanon!

Saturday, 22 February, 2020 - 12:00

This February 4, and after the Iranian regime repeatedly denied that the US sanctions have affected their economy, Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said that Iran is unable to transfer any money because of the financial sanctions.


He told ISNA News Agency that the US is not allowing them to transfer a single dollar, even from Iranian money abroad. It is indeed known that countries are forced to fully commit to any sanctions the United Nations imposes, but US sanctions are often more important and harsher. Naturally, officials in Lebanon, which are suffering from a suffocating economic and financial crisis know that the economic situation in Iran is suffocating.


Strangely, however, this did not stop the Speaker of the Parliament of Iran, Ali Larijani -who suddenly landed in Beirut last Monday - after meeting President Michel Aoun, from announcing that Iran supports the new government. This new cabient was born out of Hezbollah’s womb. Larijani stated that “Iran is ready to work to improve the economic situation in Lebanon”. This has reminded some of the saying “The blind cannot lead the blind, otherwise both will fall in a hole”.


The joke does not stop at an offer by those who have nothing to offer, but the Iranian visit came at a time that Beirut was swamped by reports from European countries and the US, which have increased pessimism by affirming that a group of factors make offering aid to Lebanon impossible and that the worsening crisis is lighter and easier than what is coming.


Prime Minister Hassan Diab rushed to hold a meeting with European ambassadors in Beirut, revealing that Lebanon needs urgent aid at all levels by saying that the government has put a plan of reforms that are compatible with the CEDRE Conference program.


The European countries that have always heard such promises by Lebanese officials, however, were astounded by the government’s statement, particularly on electricity, which represents the black hole that has swallowed more than 52 billion dollars, more than half of the public debt that has reached 100 billion dollars, a consistent waste of money that has destroyed the Lebanese economy.


Naturally, the International Support Group for Lebanon emphasized the importance of regaining the trust of the Lebanese people and the international community to activate future international aid to the country, affirming that the only way to do this is putting a serious program that is clear in supporting reforms, which fall in the interest of the nation and the people.


From this, some questions arise: Where is the interest of the Lebanese people which has been rebelling since October 17 against corruption and the political class and has yet to touch on any real step towards reform? On the contrary, they have found themselves begging for 200 dollars from their savings at the doorstep of banks, amid reports about hundreds of billions of dollars being transferred to European countries by a group of politicians who own around 40% of Lebanese banks.


Perhaps the worst part is that while the country stands at the brink of collapse with the Eurobonds’ due date nearing at the beginning of next month, at 1.2 billion dollars, and after the value of the Eurobond dropped to 17 cents for each dollar and bank owners purchased them at a declining price, they are now pressuring the central bank to pay its dues on time to make unbelievable profits under the guise of maintaining Lebanon’s reputation in the world.


Others, on the other hand, are calling for a rescheduling of the debt based on a real reform program with a timeframe to close down on wasting resources, at the front of which is electricity which has taken Lebanon to near bankruptcy. The International Support Group is now imposing conditions that begin with deep-reaching reforms especially in electricity and fighting corruption and tax evasion, as well as adopting a national strategy to stop the wild corruption in the country. Also, reforming the judiciary and implementing an accountability program.


However, they all go back to emphasizing the right to protest, which sounds like fully adopting the demands of the Lebanese people. This is what the UN representative in Beirut, Jan Kubis, repeated to high-ranking officials! More importantly, the international group demanded that Lebanon implement Security Council’s resolutions including 1701 and 1559 that stipulate limiting weapons to the state, respecting the Taef Agreement and announcing a dissociation policy. Larijani’s visit implied that it is impossible to implement these resolutions under a one-sided government and that it is impossible to be neutral considering the accusations by the Gulf countries, with Hezbollah’s continued involvement in battles and Iranian intervention in the region.


Despite this, the Prime Minister is repeating that he is planning an Arab tour that will start in Saudi Arabia, and that’s why the Iranians have tried to imply through Larijani’s visit that they are putting their fingerprints on the Lebanese authorities through a one-sided government and that they are the military decision-makers through Hezbollah’s weapons.


Consequently, it would be strange for the Gulf countries to concede to the new government’s request for aid. What is required is reforming relations on the grounds that Lebanon is an Arab country and that it is not allowed to slip under Iranian policies because an imbalance towards Iran’s interest alienates Saudi Arabia from Lebanon. The proof is that it decided to reduce its diplomats in Beirut after Hezbollah decided to form this government.


Returning to the point on the electricity black hole that has swallowed half of the public debt, it seems that the government is now facing a storm of disagreements and deep internal divisions, especially after the government statement adopted the policies of the previous governments from 2010 to 2019.


A few days ago, Speaker Nabih Berri made this clear by saying that he is headed toward “announcing war and that his target is the electricity battle, and that nothing is more important than the electricity battle, as fast and as cheap as possible”. Refuting the government statement, Berri stated that the best solution is constructing two power plants. Out of irony and for the sake of comparison, Egypt is 95 times larger than Lebanon and the population is 20 times that of Lebanon, and Egypt was nevertheless able to construct two power plants producing 14,400 megawatts with 7 billion euros. Lebanon, on the other hand, only needs 3,000 megawatts and has not been able to secure half with 51 billion dollars!


Other opinion articles

Editor Picks

Multimedia