New Government for Lebanon but Analysts Wonder About Real Reforms
By Dale Gavlak September 12, 2021
Following yearlong political paralysis that has sunk its economy, Lebanon finally has a new government. Analysts wonder, though, whether Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the country's richest man, will deliver the needed reforms to revive the ailing nation and rescue Lebanon from bankruptcy. His Cabinet reinforces the country's crippling sectarianism and Gulf Arabs will be unlikely to provide financial help as long as Iran-backed Hezbollah maintains a stranglehold on power, the analysts say.
Pressing Lebanese politicians to end their political bickering over portfolios, the U.S. and France welcomed the new government, saying urgent action must be taken to tackle the country's dire economic crisis, especially after the deadly Beirut port blast in August of last year.
Lebanese analyst Dania Koleilat Khatib with the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut told VOA that after more than 13 months of waiting for a new government, the Lebanese people are disappointed with the resulting Cabinet, and desperate to stop the slide toward poverty and chaos they are experiencing.
Most critically, she says that the finance minister who needs to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund on unlocking badly needed financial support, is viewed as unlikely to be tough enough on his former employer, the central bank, which is widely blamed for Lebanon's bankruptcy.
"They kept the same sectarian network, the same system," she said. "People were expecting change. Nothing new, same old, same old because still there will not be any reforms unless the Ministry of Finance is free put by a really independent person. But at the Ministry of Finance, they put Yousef Khalil. Unless there is a real financial audit, you cannot do any reforms. There are some good people like Nasser Yassin, minister of environment. But it is not enough to put a few good names, unless you have a structure where they can work from."
Few observers believe the government will oversee a thorough financial audit of the central bank because securing IMF support would require reforms that past governments have failed to enact.
The public blames these same ruling parties for decades of corruption and mismanagement of Lebanon's resources. Getting financial help from Gulf Arabs would mean confronting Hezbollah's substantial influence.
Analyst Sami Moubayed, writing in Dubai's Gulf News, noted that Hezbollah is in charge of the public works ministry which is "very important to the Iran-backed party, since this is where all the money will pour, when/if the reconstruction of Beirut begins." Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, he said, had persistently refused giving them this ministry, "fearing that this would hamper reconstruction, scare off Arab investors, and possibly, trigger sanctions from the United States."
Some observers say that Mikati's government may try to implement some modest reforms to secure votes for the traditional sectarian parties. The focus now is on Lebanon's municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for next year, Khatib says.
"The whole conversation will be on running for the elections. I don't think the elections will bring real change because the power structure is put in a way to perpetrate itself and the opposition is not well organized," she said.
Meanwhile, most Lebanese are struggling to survive amid soaring inflation and the more than 90% loss in value of their currency, coupled with fuel and medicine shortages and severe power cuts.
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