Is Lebanon’s government holding accountability or striping off responsibility?

In August, the Lebanese government stepped down amid growing public anger following a massive explosion that struck the main port of Beirut. Many MPs and lawmakers openly blamed the corrupt “system” for what had happened. But who is this “system”?

Lebanon, already reeling under its worst economic crisis, got struck by one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history. Long-term pleadings like “re-export these goods immediately to preserve the safety of the port and those working in it” were ignored. The results: Hundreds dead, thousands injured, thousands homeless and billions of dollars in property damage.

Shortly after, the second government since October 2019’s massive anti-establishment protests resigned, blaming a corrupt “political elite” and “system” for everything. With Lebanon still at the brink of economic collapse, regular power cuts and uncertain water supply, nothing seems to have changed since then.

Following the end of the 1975-1990 civil war several warlords entered politics and are still in control of large parts of the country’s political, economic, and social sectors. Many protesters blame this entrenched system for the country’s corruption. Only a few of this “political elite” were called out by protesters, like Nabih Berri, Michel Aoun, Hassan Nasrallah, Samir Geagea, Walid Jumblatt and Samy Gemayel.

Now one could ask: “Who is this political elite the government is talking about?”. Unfortunately, no one explained this in detail, while blaming everyone else.

A political elite – nothing but a legal entity

I have one employer named Lebanon, and I found in my country many employers and conflicting interests,” foreign minister Nassif Hitti said in his resignation letter one day before the explosion in Beirut. Reports in local media have indicated that Hitti’s resignation was partially due to frustration over former foreign minister Gebran Bassil’s continued hold on key decisions at the ministry. But Hitti did not point this out directly.

After the explosion one minister after another was holding accountability and stepping down, blaming the corrupt “system” and “political elite” for Lebanon’s misery, leaving many questions unanswered.

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad cited the failure of the government to carry out reforms. She was resigning from the government “in response to the people’s will for change.”. How change will come with no one willing for change in charge was not specified. Environment Minister Damianos Kattar added to his resignation that he had lost hope in a “sterile regime that botched several opportunities”.

Lebanese Justice Minister Marie Claude Najm, said that Lebanon’s issue is an issue of “purely private interests” and that she “cannot repair something in 6 months what has been ongoing for more than 30 years”. She called the sectarian system a “sick and rotten political system”. In her opinion, one government alone cannot change Lebanon to a civil state “in which citizens do not need a passport from the head of the religious sect to exercise their rights” (BBC Global News Podcast, “Lebanon cabinet resigns as anger over blast mounts”, August 11th). The Justice Minister´s accusations sent a concerning message without explicitly naming culprits and proposing solutions to the problem. Does she owe more detailed insights to the people? If she is not able to change the system from within, how does she want to change the system from outside?

Prime Minister Hassam Diab explained that the government “will follow the […] desire [for] real change from the corrupt destructive state”. As the past has proven, a resigning government hardly changes anything. Diab left open what the path to salvation and to real change could look like. He already criticised “opponents” and the “political elite” for the government’s failure to bring reforms back in June. No “opponents” were named. He went further by saying that “the government worked on a plan that would save the country” and that they were kept from “turning these aspirations into reality”. At this point it seems to be justified to ask: Who is holding this country back, who is the ‘political elite’, who is the ‘system’? A system, per definition, is made of a sum of individuals and is thus not an operating entity on its own and cannot be held liable. The Prime Minister did not give a roadmap to forming a new government, a new system or something which people could demand and protest for. If he wants to “stand with the people” the people need to know what they are standing for.

Already in June the director of Lebanon’s finance ministry, Alain Bifani, has resigned citing “forces of darkness and injustice” shortly after another member of the government’s IMF negotiating team, Henri Chaoul, named a lack of political will “to implement either reforms or a restructuring of the banking sector, including the central bank” in his resignation.

What next?

After the explosion in Beirut’s port, an emergency international donor conference raised pledges worth nearly 300 million euros. But foreign countries demand transparency over how the aid is used, wary of writing blank cheques to a government perceived by its own people as deeply corrupt. The most important demands include early elections and an extensive audit of the central bank. However, foreign countries need to be careful to not be accused of interfering in domestic affairs and acting out of personal interest as well. The revolution must be initiated from the Lebanese people itself. Many say that the only way out is to get rid of the complex sectarian system.

President Micheal Aoun announced Mustapha Adib, the country’s ambassador to Germany as the new Prime Minister-designate. Adib resigned only one month after the announcement after efforts to form a non-partisan government of experts failed. Again, resistance from within the sectarian system, particularly over the appointment of the minister of finance led to a new stalemate of the government, leaving Lebanon’s future more uncertain than ever.

About the author

Ulrich Penitz works as a software engineer and studies physics at the Technical University of Graz, Austria. He is highly interested in international law, policy making, international relations and -affairs.

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