by Paul Gadalla
Rai Insights Contributor
Beirut: Lebanon’s new government features some new faces, but it seems that any realistic change is a long way off.
2016 seemed a mostly dismal year for Lebanon. It spent the first 10 months with no president. The country’s economy and infrastructure continued to languish and the refugee crisis unabated. Indeed the country’s prospects seemed grim. Surprisingly, and thanks to a number of backdoor deals and international agreements, Lebanon finally has a new president. More shocking is that the president, Michel Aoun, has his own popular base and party, the first president as such since 1970. Such a president will most definitely placate Christian fears of presidents picked solely by Muslim representatives. Even more shocking, a new cabinet was formed in less than two months. This is a record for the Lebanese political class as jockeying for key ministries can take months. The new cabinet even passed two essential decrees for gas and oil exploration in the country. One of the most corrupt and senior telecomm officials, Abdel Moneim Yousef, was removed from his post. And thanks to the Internal Security Forces and the Lebanese Army, a major terrorist attack was foiled in one of Lebanon’s most popular neighborhoods.
Although it seems Lebanon is now on the right track, and indeed this level of consensus has been allusive for the last several years. For now we must remain cautious of this newly found consensus in the country not to mention the same mismanagement still lingers in the country. The new controversial Costa Brava landfill, meant to relieve Beirut of its garbage woes, is situated next to the Beirut Airport. Not only are arrivals to Lebanon greeted with the smell of garbage, the landfill has begun to attract a number of seagulls which are posing a threat to incoming planes. To combat this, the Lebanese government has given free license to hunters to shoot the birds instead. Yes, that’s right. Instead of trying to find another location for the landfill or look to create a national recycling strategy, hunters are being brought into merely shoot the birds. This will only harm Lebanon’s national image, drive away tourists, and continue to damage the environment.
There are also growing cracks in Lebanon’s new consensus government. Every post- civil war government has gerrymandered electoral districts for different political gains. Christian politicians’ latest complaint is that the next electoral law must give better representation to Christians and now political bickering has set in over the formation over a new electoral law, which must be implemented before this summer’s elections. Already after several high level meetings between politicians, stalemate has set in over what the next law will look like. It will also need approval from the country’s top politicians and sectarian leaders, which could take weeks if not months and threaten the unity of the cabinet. Meanwhile the clock ticks as May is set for the latest elections, for the first legislative elections since 2009.
There are also concerns for the forestalled economy. The two main pillars of the Lebanese economy have always been tourism and banking. Violence stemming from sectarian tensions and terrorist groups drove away valuable tourists, leaving Lebanon’s economy only resting on one of its pillars. With the formation of the new government, hopes are high that the economy will be jumpstarted but signs do not look that promising. Although Prime Minister Saad Hariri has promised faster internet, so far no new concrete steps have been taken to adjust Lebanon’s extremely slow speeds. Nor has there been any mention in upgrading the electricity grid, which does not provide 24-hour electricity, or creating a proper public transportation network. Such infrastructure upgrades are needed if the economy is to take off. Instead the latest plan is to simply try to lure back rich Gulf tourists to the country to help bolster tourist numbers.
All the actions taken by the new government only show that they Lebanese political class are only continuing their typical short-sighted policies. No action they take will ultimately benefit the Lebanese population, which is nothing new. So in others words, no change can be foreseen.
*Paul Gadalla is a New York native communication specialist and aspiring political analyst based in Beirut, Lebanon