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Lebanon - Politics

Lebanon is a parliamentary republic based on the 1943 National Pact, which apportions governmental authority among a Maronite Christian president, a Shia speaker of the Chamber of Deputies (parliament), and a Sunni prime minister.

Habib Battah has observed that the endless incompetence of local authorities results from a labyrinth of dysfunction, the endlessly fragmented power dynamics, and the consequent governmental dysfunction. Lebanon is a state only in name. It is actually collection of competing militias in a country that has been mired in a constant state of war since its founding. While some focus on the 1975-1990 civil war to provide a political context. But the decades preceding and following those years have been marked by dozens of other conflicts, from air strikes to assassinations involving both local and foreign actors. The perpetual chaos leaves no appetite or time to build a lasting state infrastructure or economy. There is no hierarchy of power or chain of command to plan or execute it. Every party rules its territory on its own terms. No cooperation, no teamwork, no unified national vision.

While many are happy to pounce on local backwardness as the essential cause, they often neglect the fact that this paralysis is also a direct consequence of global politics. Local factions active in the country all draw their support from foreign allies. Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Syria, France, and Israel have all supported, armed or bankrolled one militia or faction, and this has gone on for decades, transforming the country into a chess board of cold wars, plots and mysterious explosions.

On October 31, Michel Aoun was elected by parliament to the presidency, ending more than two years of political deadlock. Observers considered the 2009 parliamentary elections peaceful, free, and fair. The parliament postponed subsequent parliamentary elections, granting themselves two extensions, first in 2013 and then again in November 2014. These elections were rescheduled for May 2017, and then May 2018.

The new electoral law implemented a proportional system that awards seats by the share of vote received, instead of the former winner-takes-all system in each district. It reduces the number of electoral constituencies from 23 to 15, and allows voters to choose both an electoral list and a preferred candidate from that list. In theory, it should allow candidates beyond traditional power players to win a seat in parliament. But it also preserves the sectarian divvying-up of seats in different districts; Muslims and Christians each get around half, and smaller communities the remainder.

Even though the civil war ended 28 years ago, politics are still dominated by former warlords and family dynasties embroiled in sectarian divides. These elites’ grip on power has always enabled them to settle elections before voters get to the polls. Almost everyone in the country complains about it. The same political dynasties dominating year after year, whether in government or parliament. Politicians work for their sect, or their own families. None managing to repair an electricity system that’s been decrepit for decades or organize the proper collection of garbage because of business feuds among the political elite.

The war in Syria deepened existing divisions in Lebanon, with Hezbollah and its allies backing Assad's regime, while Hariri and his partners support the uprising against him. More than one million Syrian refugees sought shelter in Lebanon.

The 2008 Doha Agreement was an acknowledgement that no major decisions of the Lebanese Government can be effective without the consent of all major religious communities, regardless of how large the majority supporting the Government in the House of Deputies may be. This Agreement was not consistent with the provision of the written Constitution to which the Lebanese polity is supposed to refer in resolving their political differences.

The Doha Agreement, like the ones preceding it, was a tacit acknowledgement by the Lebanese political leaders that constitutional rule in Lebanon is subordinate to the consensus of its major religious communities, irrespective of the democratic rule under which the parliamentary minority submits to the majority. When such a consensus occurs, all constitutional barriers can be removed either within or outside the constitutional process, as illustrated by the election of the current President of the Republic before the expiration of the two-year period prescribed in article 49 of the Constitution.

Lebanon's president is reserved for a Christian candidate under a power-sharing agreement. Lebanese lawmakers voted overwhelmingly 05 November 2014 to extend their mandate by another two years and seven months, skipping scheduled elections for the second consecutive time amid deteriorating security conditions. Protesters blocked roads to Lebanon’s Parliament in a last-ditch attempt to halt the session. The vote to extend the mandate of the Parliament until June 2017 was held despite a boycott by two major Christian parties.

Independent media outlets were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The majority of outlets had political affiliations, which hampered their ability to operate freely in areas dominated by other political groups and affected their reporting. Local, sectarian, and foreign interest groups financed media outlets that reflected their views.

The most significant human rights abuses are torture and abuse by security forces, harsh prison and detention center conditions, and limitations on freedom of movement for Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Other human rights abuses included lengthy pretrial detention; a judiciary subject to political pressure and long delays in trials; violation of citizens’ privacy rights; some restrictions on freedoms of speech and press, including intimidation of journalists; some restrictions on freedom of assembly; harassment of Syrian political activists and other refugees; restrictions on citizens’ ability to choose their government; official corruption and lack of transparency; widespread violence against women; societal, legal, and economic discrimination against women; societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities; systematic discrimination against Palestinian and other refugees and minority groups; killings related to societal violence; restricted labor rights for and abuse of migrant domestic workers; and child labor.

The Role of Hezbollah

Despite the presence of Lebanese and UN security forces, Hizballah retained significant influence over parts of the country, and the government made no tangible progress toward disbanding and disarming armed militia groups, including Hizballah. Palestinian refugee camps continued to act as self-governed entities and maintained security and militia forces not under the direction of government officials.

Since 2006, shortly after Rafik Hariri’s assassination and Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah has exercised an effective veto over Lebanese politics. It was Hezbollah’s insistence that left Lebanon without a government for nearly two years before Saad Hariri acceded to the deal that made Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun president and returned Hariri himself to the prime ministry.

By removing Hariri’s Sunni fig leaf on a Hezbollah-dominated government in Lebanon, the Saudi leadership apparently hoped in 2017 to isolate Lebanon economically and politically, and so increase international pressure on Hezbollah to curb its regional activities in favor of shoring up its domestic legitimacy. The Hariri resignation was thus an indirect move to try and constrain Iranian behavior in other conflict arenas outside Lebanon itself.

By 2019, Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, whose ambition was to succeed his father-in-law, Michel Aoun, as president, knew full well that Hezbollah ran Lebanon. Without Hezbollah’s approval, his ambition cannot be realized. The foreign minister understood early that Lebanon was Hezbollah’s domain, and he signed a formal alliance with it in 2006. He witnessed the group’s dominance repeatedly, especially when it paralyzed the country in order to impose his father-in-law as president. He saw how it forced Prime Minister Saad Hariri out of the country in 2011, allowing him back in to the country, and to head the government, only after he had capitulated fully to their demands.

Lebanese publicists dishonestly seek to minimize the group’s power by reducing it to the number of ministries they hold, or the number of their MPs in parliament — even as they hold a majority in both the cabinet and parliament. In fact, Hezbollah’s grip on Lebanon is comprehensive. It exercises decisive influence on the security sector, but also directs the entire political order.

On 22 January 2020 Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the formation of the country's new government, saying his cabinet will try to meet the demands of protesters. Speaking at the Lebanese presidential palace in Beirut, Diab described his government – made up of 20 specialist ministers backed by the country's political parties – as a technocratic "rescue team" that would work to achieve the goals of protesters who first took to the streets in October 2019.

The formation of the new government under Diab came after the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement and its allies agreed on a cabinet that must urgently address the economic crisis and ensuing protests that toppled its predecessor. The country had been without an effective government since Saad al-Hariri submitted his resignation as premier to Lebanon's President Michel Aoun in October 2019. Since 17 October 2019, Lebanon has been rocked by nationwide protests against rising inflation and living costs as the government struggles to attract investment amid increasing economic hardships and a decreasing capital flow to the country.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun on 22 October 2020 asked Saad Hariri, a former prime minister, to form a new government to tackle the worst crisis since the country's 1975-1990 civil war. Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, won the backing of a majority of parliamentarians in consultations with Aoun. He pledged to quickly form a new government of specialists that would enact reforms aimed at stopping the country’s economic collapse. Hariri faces major challenges to navigate Lebanon's power-sharing politics and agree a cabinet, which must then address a mounting list of woes: a banking crisis, currency crash, rising poverty and crippling state debts.

France’s foreign minister said on 11 March 2021 time was running out to prevent Lebanon collapsing and that he could see no sign that the country’s politicians were doing what they could to save it. France has spearheaded international efforts to rescue the former French protectorate from its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war by trying to use Paris’ historical influence to persuade squabbling politicians to adopt a reform roadmap and form a new government to unlock international aid. “I would be tempted to qualify Lebanese politicians as guilty of not helping a country in danger,” Jean-Yves le Drian told a news conference in Paris. “They all committed to act to create an inclusive government and committed to implementing indispensable reforms. That was seven months ago and nothing is moving. I think it’s not too late, but the delays are very small before collapse."

On 14 July 2021 prime minister-designate Saad Hariri presented a new cabinet proposal to President Michel Aoun in a move that could end nine months of deadlock as the country faces economic collapse. Veteran Sunni politician Hariri had presented multiple proposals to Aoun, an ally of the Shia group Hezbollah, over the past months, but they had been unable to agree on a list. The proposal was for 24 specialist technocrat ministers, in line with a French initiative that envisioned a government capable of enacting reforms that could unlock much-needed foreign aid to rescue the nation. Saad al-Hariri abandoned his effort to form a new government on 15 July 2021, saying it was clear he would not be able to reach an agreement with President Michel Aoun, plunging the country deeper into crisis.

Sunni telecoms tycoon Najib Mikati secured enough votes in parliamentary consultations on 25 July 2021 to be designated the next prime minister, raising hopes for an urgently needed viable government to tackle a crippling financial crisis. France and the US have expressed support for the move. He is endorsed by most of Lebanon's political parties including the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah, but he faces opposition from the party of President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian. Mikati said he would work to form a government and implement a French plan to save the country from its crippling financial crisis. "I don't have a magic wand and can't perform miracles ... but I have studied the situation for a while and have international guarantees," Mikati said after he won a majority of votes in parliamentary consultations to be nominated. France's plan includes a government of specialists capable of initiating enough reforms to attract foreign aid. Mikati, who has been prime minister twice before and unlike many Lebanese leaders does not hail from a political bloc or dynasty, received 72 votes out of a total of 118 members of parliament.

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Page last modified: 26-07-2021 19:17:16 ZULU