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March 10, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8617

In Lebanon, Criticism Of New Government: A Puppet Government Controlled By Hizbullah That Won't Extricate Country From Its Crisis

March 10, 2020
Lebanon | Special Dispatch No. 8617

On February 11, 2020, Lebanon's government, headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, secured a vote of confidence in parliament. The formation of the new government had followed prime minister Sa'd Al-Hariri's resignation in response to protests in the country against regime corruption and the economic crisis, that broke out on October 17, 2019.[1]

Once tasked with forming the government, Diab, who is supported by Hizbullah and its allies, aimed to mollify the protestors and the general public who were demanding a government not reliant on existing political elements. Pledging that it would comprise independent technocrats, the government he presented included 19 ministers, all unfamiliar names. However, most of them are not experts in the areas for which they are responsible, and nearly all of them were chosen by the March 8 camp – that is, by Hizbullah and its allies.[2]

Because of this, the newly confirmed government already faces serious opposition from protestors, who feel cheated. Demonstrations outside the parliament building immediately following the government's confirmation led to clashes with security forces.

Also critical of the new government were newspaper op-eds by public figures and columnists identified with the March 14 camp. They called on the public not to have confidence in the new government, referring to it, inter alia, as a disgraceful government and a puppet government – and not a government of independent technocrats as promised, but one dominated by Hizbullah. Some argued that it would represent Iran and the resistance axis and make it difficult to obtain aid from the U.S., Europe, and Arab countries. They also said that it would be incapable of solving Lebanon's economic problems – which include restrictions for banks on withdrawals and overseas transfers and a public debt of some $90 billion. Since this government is neither truly independent nor reformist, they added, it will not institute real reforms, tackle the security situation, or deal with the weapons illegally possessed by Hizbullah.

Anti-government protests outside parliament immediately following the confirmation of the government (Source: Al-Nahar, Lebanon, February 11, 2020)

The following are translated articles and commentary on events surrounding the confirmation of the new Lebanese government:

Al-Nahar Columnist: "Don't Give [This Government] Your Confidence"

In a column titled "Don't Give [This Government] Your Confidence"  in the March 14 camp-affiliated Al-Nahar daily, Akl Awit argued that Prime Minister Diab had failed to keep his promise of an independent and professional government, and said that there should be no public confidence in it:

"The new government is no different from the one that preceded it... Those who brought its leader, its members, and its paymaster [to power] do not want it to be different, professional, free, sovereign, and independent. They do not want it to rescue the country and its people from the tragic fate that has befallen them. Were the prime minister true to himself, his commitments, his promises, and his declarations, he would have appointed ministers who are independent and experts [i.e. technocrats]. There is a vast gulf separating half of the members [of this government] from professionalism. With respect to [the claim] that it is independent of the elements [that have] controlled [Lebanon in recent years], you can say this as much as you like, [but it is far from true]. Maybe one or two ministers, and maybe, just maybe, three, at most, are the exception [to this, i.e. are independent]. But the government [as a whole] is not...   

"In light of [the fact that] this government and its members continue to act like they have all the time in this world and in the next, that the fundamental guidelines set by its members are pathetic... that they have broken promises and [shattered] all hopes pinned on it... I call on the free public, on those who act peacefully, on those who rise up, on the revolutionaries, on the hungry and the sick, on the unemployed and the bankrupt, on those who are lost and are about to emigrate: Do not give this government your confidence, and do not allow it popular legitimacy."[3]

Lebanese Political Analyst: Through Fraud, The Government Remains In The Same Hands – And Reform Won't Happen

In a similar vein, Lebanese political commentator Tony 'Issa asserted that the government remains in the hands of the same political elements, and expressed skepticism with regard to its ability to institute reforms: "Naturally, the Europeans and others have reservations about what is happening [in connection with the makeup of this government]. This is because Diab promised to hand the government portfolios to independent technocrats, but, through fraud, they remain in the hands of the same political elements. The previous government's budget was adopted by [this new so-called] 'reformist government' with no changes. Likewise, we can expect no changes to the administrative staffs whose appointments are based on political connections. If this is the case, whence will reform come?

"The fundamental guidelines of [this] government are from the same mold as the previous guidelines in all things connected to the political-security aspect. With regard to the economic aspect, [this government] used numerous slogans about reform and rescue, to be carried out within undefined periods by means of no clear mechanism or organized plan. All this gives the impression that the reason [these issues] were included in the government's fundamental guidelines was to ward off the [public's] rage and to deceive public opinion with promises of reform."[4]

Lebanese Journalist: The West And The Arab Countries Will Not Send Aid To Lebanon – Because It Is Considered Part Of The Iran-Led Resistance Axis

In the London-based Al-Arab daily, Lebanese journalist Khairallah Khairallah wrote about Lebanon’s foreign relations, arguing that no one in the new government is capable of communicating with the Americans, the Europeans, or the Arabs. He wrote:

"The government of Hassan Diab and its founders do not understand that Lebanon's problem is first and foremost political – and that no one in this government is capable of talking to the Arabs, the Europeans, or the Americans. This is because no member has [even] minimally good relations with foreign elements that have a positive influence on Lebanon's situation…  

“The Trump administration no longer wants to deal with Lebanon or to consider its domestic sentiment. This came about at the same time as the disappearance of the imaginary, or non-imaginary, line separating Hizbullah and [Lebanon's state] institutions, first and foremost the presidency and the government...

"With respect to the Arabs, Lebanon cannot request any Arab aid as long as the Gulf residents are fully convinced that it is a Hizbullah base. The current government has no way of persuading any Gulf country with financial means that Lebanon is not part of the Iranian axis. All anyone needs to be certain of this is to hear any speech by Hizbullah secretary-general Nasrallah –and especially when the aim of his speech is to attack a country like Saudi Arabia, which does only good for Lebanon."[5]

In another article, Khairallah wrote: "The new government formed in Lebanon headed by Hassan Diab absolutely cannot rescue anything, in light of the boiling [rage] in the street and in light of the fact that official Lebanese elements are biased towards Iran – which pressured them to form this government led by a figurehead with no credibility worth mentioning in his community..."[6]

Al-Nahar Columnist: The New Government Is Betraying The Lebanese Protests – And We Must Oppose It

In his column titled "Struggle Against the Puppet Government" in the Al-Nahar daily, Ali Hamade criticized the new government's violent suppression of the protests and urged the public to rebel against it. He wrote: "The government is a grave stab wound to the 'October 17 Revolution,' that sparked [a demand] for fundamental change in the country... The rebelling Lebanese people are called upon to first of all oppose the parliament that has surrendered to... the foreign occupier [i.e. Iran]; [then] to oppose the puppet government... and the insolence of [its February 7] meeting of the 'Supreme Defense Council' to finalize plans for suppressing the rebels, [with the aim of] terrifying independent national public opinion and letting it know that the government has extinguished the flames of the revolution that began on October 17...

"There is no alternative but to stand up to the policing mindset that is running the country, so that these [rulers] will understand that Lebanon is not Iraq and that the disgraceful government headed by Hassan Diab has no national legitimacy… Therefore, the free people and the rebels must not allow any rest for those who have stolen the people's dreams and seek to throw the Lebanese people into a huge prison.

"We thus call on free public opinion to return to the logic of the resistance… by taking to the streets, as part of actualizing the democratic and non-violent right to revolt against the evil reality presented by this government [that sets out] facts on the ground starting at the tip of the pyramid and radiating to its base. The Lebanese people's dire circumstances have reached a nadir. We can no longer remain silent, and we can no longer accept this reality…

"Therefore, we say to the Lebanese people – who are seeing their dreams and hopes evaporate before their eyes, who line up [at the banks] in shame and humiliation to salvage what remains of their money, who see their honor trampled by the few who seize their assets and their rights, who see their crust of bread being taken from their mouths and the mouths of their children, and whose future is bleak… – You have no choice but to keep protesting against this illegitimate political reality and the standard of living that humiliates you and your dreams…"[7]

Al-Mustaqbal Party Official: This Government Will Find It Hard To Act Against The Resistance Or Against The Firing Of Missiles From Lebanon

Al-Mustaqbal party senior official Mustafa 'Aloush expressed his doubts regarding the new government's ability to tackle the country's economic problems, fight corruption, promote reforms, and take control of the security situation in the country, and to deal with the issue of Hizbullah's illegal weapons. He wrote: "How will the government deal with this [economic] situation in the absence of foreign aid?... If the government [manages] to stabilize [the dollar exchange rate], what rate and price [will it set]? What will inflation be, and how much will the citizens' buying power drop… Where will they [get the money] to return to the public what they stole? Will the members of government hunt down those outside it?...

 "Moving on to the less pressing problems of the day, obviously in comparison to the current situation – for example the electricity [problem]… For two decades this issue has been in the hands of the ruling group, and is today [as well], yet the electricity situation is only getting worse. We have heard no hope of salvation from the  minister – who was advisor to the previous minister. Some say we must wait to see results. But the minister belongs to the previous staff that worked on this issue, and [there are still no results]. Regarding corruption, how can we expect a government to go after its own people in the government, who are for the most part agents of the rulers who appointed them to their positions, and as long as corruption is the most important means for the government and its members to maintain their power?...

"I [also] want to ask about how [the government] is handling the matter of the illegal weapons, which is the main obstacle facing the economy. The economy has dwindling investment because of the instability and the death of tourism due to the ongoing threats and shows of force against tourists in Lebanon by the weapons of the resistance… Will the resistance's shipments be inspected [at border crossings]? Will the government know what is in the trucks crossing the border with resistance passwords? What will the government do if the Lebanese Revolutionary Guard Corps [i.e. Hizbullah] is ordered to fire missiles? How will we persuade the Americans to lift the sanctions, in light of the ongoing struggle with Iran and when the resistance in our country is an integral part of the enterprise of the resistance [axis]?

"Every reform is likely to fail because of the loss of political and security control – [all of] which is connected to [Hizbullah's] illegal weapons. Ignoring this reality ostrich-style will not lead to tackling the centers of the disease [afflicting the country]."[8]

 

[2] Diab's government is identified with the March 8 camp and its main elements are Hizbullah and its allies – Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement headed by Gebran Bassil, son-in-law of President Michel 'Aoun. The Lebanese government comprises the prime minister and 19 ministers, in this government, four ministers are from Hizbullah and Amal, six are from the Free Patriotic Movement, and two represent Druze faction leader Talal Arslan, a rival of longtime Druze leader Walid Jumblatt who is affiliated with the March 8 camp. Additionally, two ministers are from the Maronite Marada movement, headed by Suleiman Frangieh, Hizbullah ally, and one is from Al-Liqaa Al-Tashawuri, which represents the Sunni opposition to Sa'd Al-Hariri and are also supported by Hizbullah. Another minister is from the Armenian party Tashnag that joined the March 8 camp. Only three ministers in the government are politically unaffiliated, but they were appointed by Diab, who, as noted, is supported by Hizbullah.

[3] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), February 8, 2020.

[4] Al-Gumhouriyya (Lebanon), February 7, 2020.

[5] Al-Arab (London), February 9, 2020.

[6] Al-Arab (London), January 29, 2020.

[7] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), February 8, 2020.

[8] Al-Gumhouriyya (Lebanon), January 28, 2020.

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