BEIRUT: The process of forming Premier-designate Saad Hariri’s new cabinet has entered the end of its third week since Hariri was nominated for the post at the end of June. The effort has yet to yield tangible results, but has been referred to by Hariri and government officials as free from regional influence and a purely Lebanese affair. But a report released by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) at the end of June presents a much less independent picture of the government.
Lebanon has had a long history of foreign occupation and influence and the UNDP National Human Development Report claims the country is still dominated by foreign states that are tied to sectarian parties who profit from keeping the state weak.
The process of cabinet formation comes after the June 7 parliamentary elections that saw the Western-backed March 14 forces hold on to its parliamentary majority over the Syrian- and Iranian-backed March 8 coalition. After the polls, several international representatives have visited Lebanon to voice their support for the new Parliament and their non-interference in the government process.
Despite this, the UNDP report calls into doubt the historical sincerity of the hands-off policies of international governments in Lebanon and describes appeals to foreign powers as a Lebanese “tradition.” Many analysts agree and have hinged the cabinet formation on a tripartite agreement between Syria, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.
Hassan Krayem, a member of the UNDP steering committee responsible for the report, said the foreign-influence section of the almost 300-page document must not be overstated and should be in the context of the report’s primary theme of citizenship.
Krayem added that many small countries like Lebanon come under foreign influence as well. The majority of the report, subtitled “Toward a citizen’s state,” addresses other issues concerning confessionalism, economic citizenship rights, poverty and education. The report also did not directly refer to the current cabinet formation.
Still the wording of the foreign powers and civil-peace section of the report was harsh. Most critically, the report said the dominance of foreign powers in Lebanon gives local political parties an inflated sense of strength that “far transcends their own weak and divided resources of power.”
Lebanon has been under almost continuous foreign influence sense its independence. The state was recognized as independent in 1943 after being part of a French mandate. Since then the country has seen American, Syrian, Israeli, French and Italian forces occupy its land during the country’s turbulent history.
The country has been historically unstable and has suffered long periods of internal conflict in which foreign patrons played a large role. Lebanon’s geographic location in a volatile region and demographic diversity has made Lebanon a magnet for world powers to project their influence.
The UNDP report called the foreign influence “significant and ongoing” and that national political parties were so dependent on the foreign actors, “turning the call to sever the connection into something absurd.”
The report said political parties have fought over the state to “protect its weakness” so the state’s power can be indirectly used to benefit those political groups and confessions.
The foreign-powers section of the report concluded that the overall impact of foreign influence was the harming of citizenship in Lebanon.
It said freedom has been reinterpreted to mean “concluding contracts in parallel to the state and exchanging political services with foreign powers, where ‘legitimate’ foreign financing of political parties and media, in exchange for their loyalty to a foreign power, is permitted and people are supplied with arms that flow across the border.”
According to the report this could only change with the strengthening of the state. “Citizenship, meanwhile cannot become stable unless a state based on the law becomes stable, along with the loyalty of citizens to this state and their compliance with its sovereignty.”