The high-level diplomatic meetings touching on the crisis of Lebanon, even the Vatican prayer, are disproportionate to the speed of the collapse hitting the country, leaving the corruption-plagued country at the mercy of those responsible for its misery.
The meeting in Rome that grouped US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken with his Saudi and French counterparts discussed the situation in Lebanon and stressed the need for a new government to introduce reforms and fight corruption. It was interesting that the statement after the meeting didn’t include Hezbollah’s weapons as one of the reasons that led to the current status of the country.
This doesn’t mean that the three countries have altered their policy, however this is an acknowledgment of the pro-Iranian group's growing influence in Lebanon and the need to secure their approval for any potential settlement and avoid labeling their efforts as an attempt to curb the pro-Iranian group . This is most likely the French influence who kept contacts with Hezbollah while Saudi Arabia and the US maintained the same policy of trying to counter Hezbollah and contain Iran’s spread in the region.
The statement following the meeting stated the obvious and repeated the declared policy. What’s new in the meeting was the presence of the Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan.
The three discussed "the need for Lebanon's political leaders to show real leadership by implementing overdue reforms to stabilize the economy and provide the Lebanese people with much-needed relief," Blinken wrote on Twitter.
Saudi Arabia has distanced itself from domestic Lebanese politics and decided to ignore officially Lebanon unless Riyadh is convinced that Hezbollah is no longer calling the shots in deciding the government’s policy.
Lebanese are awaiting to see how this new interest by Washington and Riyadh would translate into easing the economic hardship in the country and pave the way for the formation of a new Cabinet. A revived Saudi role in Lebanon would certainly help move the political process and give hope to an economic recovery. The international community and mainly the relevant parties to Lebanese issues know perfectly how bad the situation is and who is responsible for the current political impasse. Sanctioning and lecturing Lebanese politicians have so far failed to sway them to relinquish their personal interests and put national interest on top. For any international initiative to be effective it has to have an enforcing mechanism and consistent efforts by the international community to avoid Lebanon plunging into total chaos. Lebanon has been without a functioning government for almost two years with no sign that the bickering political factions are willing to budge or compromise.
World leaders know that Lebanon is on the verge of total collapse, but are reluctant to step in and help fund a failed state ruled by corrupt and incompetent leaders who hide behind sectarian slogans.
To secure international support, Lebanon cannot blackmail the world: If you don’t help us, chaos will hunt you and threaten your interests.
The sooner Lebanese get their act together, the faster the recovery will be. In the midst of the daily challenges Lebanese people are facing in trying to secure basic needs their government has failed to provide. Lebanese activists, opposition leaders and other civil society groups, are in turn failing to provide solutions and meaningful ideas so the world and the Lebanese can see in them a viable alternative. So far they have offered badly timed conferences discussing old and previously failed ideas and provided daily descriptions of the government’s shortcomings. When people are lining up at gas stations and can’t put food on the table or find medicine for their children, others are discussing what form of government Lebanon should have.
The Lebanese political elite spends so much time on sovereignty issues and the role of Lebanon in the world, when the country imports almost all of its needs including solutions. When a central government is weakened, cities away from the capital go into chaos and mobs threaten security and state laws. We have started to see symptoms of this in Tripoli and Sidon. This should be a wakeup call to bickering politicians of what is to come in the near future if they don’t change course.
Mouafac Harb is a veteran American-Lebanese journalist based in Beirut. He contributes a weekly column in The Daily Star.