A year after his resignation, Saad Hariri was again appointed Prime Minister of Lebanon and tasked with forming a government that could gain much-needed international support and help stem the country’s catastrophic collapse.
Hariri’s appointment on Thursday follows the most tumultuous 12 months in post-civil war history in Lebanon, during which ongoing economic disintegration and financial crisis have impoverished much of the country and led to street violence and fears of widespread unrest.
The turmoil was capped by a massive explosion at the Port of Beirut in August, which devastated much of the city’s eastern suburbs and led to – so far ignored – demands for a widely blamed political overhaul. chaos.
Instead, the political groups that have gained a foothold since the end of the war have widened, resisting calls for financial and political reform, slowing an investigation into the port explosion, and resisting international rescue efforts. which were conditioned by a governance overhaul and an end. state corruption.
The return of Hariri, the son of assassinated former prime minister Rafik Hariri, was increasingly seen as inevitable as the country dried up under its former leader Hassan Diab, who made no progress in the fight against the crisis and resigned after the explosion of the port. His replacement, Mustapha Adib, resigned before appointing a government after disputes over which sect was given key cabinet portfolios.
Hariri will face the same challenges that led him to quit his post in October 2019, in the days following the popular protests that swept through cities across the country. The protests were sparked by the introduction of state measures to recover income – measures which were rejected by a reluctant Lebanese population.
Since then, economic conditions have deteriorated dramatically as Lebanon was unable to pay off its huge global debts and rapidly dwindling central bank reserves, resulting in shortages of essential commodities such as fuel, wheat and vegetables. drugs. The currency lost 80% of its value and hyperinflation led to growing food insecurity and informal capital controls, imposed by banks fearing a race to cut deposits.
At the same time, the country has become the focal point of a powerful standoff between the Trump administration and Iran, and it is by proxy, the powerful militia with the political bloc Hezbollah, which holds a hand of whip in Lebanese affairs. Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy on Iran has deeply affected Tehran’s finances, and its sanctions regime has increasingly targeted Hezbollah figures and businesses allegedly linked to the militia’s global fundraising efforts. .
Prior to the US elections, Lebanon increasingly became an arena in the struggle between the two powers, which led to pressure from Washington for key portfolios, such as the finance ministry, to be handed over to technocrats. . Hezbollah and its Shiite Islamic ally Amal resisted, for reasons of sovereignty.
France also demanded a technocratic government that would allow state institutions to no longer be strongholds of sectarian blocs which are divided ministries in exchange for their support in the appointment of key leaders. Since the explosion of the port, Emmanuel Macron has taken the global initiative by trying to force Lebanese politicians to put the country on a more transparent basis. The French president’s efforts have so far failed, and he has told his allies that French support for Hariri was a last-ditch attempt to stabilize Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch on Thursday asked Lebanese officials to authorize an international investigation into the port explosion. After nearly three months, a Lebanese investigation has yet to yield results and there are growing concerns that officials are reluctant to ask questions of politicians interested in the events at the docks.
“Everyone in Beirut has seen their lives turned upside down by the catastrophic explosion that devastated half of the city, and they deserve justice for the disaster inflicted on them,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Only an independent international investigation will uncover the truth about the explosion. The International Support Group for Lebanon must not play with the Lebanese authorities’ claim to be able to conduct their own credible investigation. “
The national inquiry has so far focused on administrative officials, raising fears that politicians credibly implicated in the explosion are escaping responsibility. Some of the ministries involved in corruption at the port have been made responsible for overseeing the investigation, a fact seen by international observers as compromising any outcome.