Mustafa Fahs

Lebanon…On the Eve of Collision

As happens in banana republics, the financial and political crises in Lebanon are descending to the point of no return. Indeed, recent leaks to the media indicate that the country is one step away from being knocked off its feet. Reports that the US Treasury Department is on the cusp of imposing sanctions on Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh have led to a sharp decline in the value of the national currency, making it impossible to control the financial market, meaning that living standards will plummet further.

This threatens total chaos, and the regime will try to evade responsibility by hiding behind foreign conspiracies as it seeks to impose its political and financial terms domestically.

It did not take the foreign-conspiracy-obsessed regime very long to point the finger abroad. This time, the goal was protecting Riad Salameh, whom the regime-funded media claim is being threatened with sanctions because of his relationship with “Hezbollah,” not because he is corrupt. Whitewashing Salameh’s image is, first and foremost, an attempt to return the favor for laundering their money. The second reason they are defending him is that the sanctions being imposed on Salameh would mean that the institutions safeguarding their interests are beginning to be dismantled.

Salameh leaving the scene as a result of a foreign actor’s measure intended to punish him for domestic actions would represent a pivotal moment in the modern history of Lebanon. Its implications would mean there are no brakes to reduce the speed before the collision. Most dangerously of all, the collision comes at a time when major figures in the country’s security establishment are leaving the scene, but for domestic reasons. The eyes of the Lebanese were on Parliament before turning to the Lebanese Central Bank, as the country’s citizens had been awaiting the vacuums in the state’s security apparatuses to be filled.

On the one hand, ensuring the quorum needed to hold a parliamentary session and extend their terms. On the other hand, some are of the opinion that the constitution stipulates that Parliament has been an electoral rather than legislative body since the term of the President of the Republic ended. It is clear that the regime is eating itself up from the inside, as rivals are undermining their shared interests for the first time.

The Lebanese crisis has entered the stage of freefall. Most threateningly, neither foreign or domestic actors have the capacity to contain it or manage its repercussions. What is left of fragile stability is in peril as the currency crisis continues to exacerbate, threatening chaos. The form this chaos will take is impossible to identify. They could go beyond economic and social conditions, as security conditions could well deteriorate in a country where obstruction has left all sorts of positions in state institutions, from the President to low-level administrators, vacant.

At the presidential level, it does not seem likely that a new one will be elected in the foreseeable future. In fact, it seems that those who had forced the Lebanese to wait two and a half years to elect a president as they sought to impose Michel Aoun, cannot fill the current presidential vacuum with a candidate that suits them at this stage.

Thus, they have chosen to shoot their arrows at both domestic and foreign actors. Domestically, they call for dialogue between the parliamentary blocs, arguing that this is needed to bring the divergent views of these blocs closer together. Meanwhile, they have called on foreign sides - the five powers that met in Paris - not to interfere because their intervention would be biased and would wreak even more havoc on our country.

In fact, the clique and its ruling party are having trouble ensuring the parliamentary majority needed to elect or impose a president that could be protected by consensus. Nor can they compel domestic and foreign forces to bargain over whom to nominate to the country’s top positions (the presidency and premiership).

Commenting on this situation, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem has said, “with the economic and social crises we are undergoing and the incomprehensible, intolerable decline in the value of our currency, the only solution is taking the constitutional path and electing a president. After that, we need a government and then a plan to remedy the situation. If the failure to reach an agreement and a certain solution continues, things will become difficult and complicated."

And so, with the foreign protection of the Central Bank and domestic cover of the security top brass lifted, it seems Lebanon is at the point of collision.