The Lebanese political system is at the heart of its malaise

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The economic and political crises facing Lebanon will only be resolved when the political structure is reshuffled.

There are no two ways about it, Lebanon is – to use the language of IR theorists – on the verge of becoming a “failed state”, both politically and economically.

Lebanon’s economic crisis underscores the problems that stem from deep structural issues with its political system. Dating from the French mandate, the different sects that make up today’s Lebanon share parliamentary seats, ministerial positions and ministries within the framework of the confessional – or sectarian – system of Lebanon.

The system requires cabinet decisions to be passed by a two-thirds majority, effectively institutionalizing the political stalemate, which has most often been the case, especially in the post-civil war era.

Moreover, despite electoral reforms enacted ahead of last year’s parliamentary elections which saw the introduction of elements of proportional representation, there is currently no political will among the political elite and the population for broader reforms. The prevailing fear is that it will rekindle the tensions of the civil war that remain buried just below the surface.

The current system – and today’s political actors who are largely the vestiges of the fifteen-year civil war – keeps Lebanese politics and economy locked in a parasitic and symbiotic relationship vulnerable to threats. Corruption, identity politics and almost constant external manipulation.

Currently, Lebanon’s debt-to-GDP ratio is 150% of GDP, one of the highest in the world, and the current account deficit now stands at about 20% of GDP. According to a recently released government report on the state of the economy, 32% of public expenditure in 2016 was devoted to interest payments. Another 32 percent went to bloated public sector wages and salaries, leaving less than a third of government revenue for real investment and services. The debt / GDP ratio should reach 180% by 2024, three fifths government revenues will be needed to service the debt.

The nearly $ 11 billion offered by the World Bank, the European Union and a host of other actors have been contingent on Lebanon forming a government and implementing difficult economic reforms. from Qatar recent pledge to buy $ 500 million in government bonds may support the economy in the short term, but in the end, that only throws the proverbial box down the road.

Following the Qatari announcement, Saudi Arabia announced that he was ready to do whatever he could to support the Lebanese economy. This, of course, reflects more regional geopolitics than a genuine concern for advancing economic growth and living standards in Lebanon.

The Lebanese economy has long been dependent on the GCC. Tourism, which is one of the five key sectors targeted for growth by the Lebanese government’s economic report, relies on wealthy visitors like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, who together account for 60% of all tourism spending in Lebanon.

More than half of all Lebanese exports go to GCC economies, with Saudi Arabia being the top destination. Private consumption and domestic demand have been driven mainly by remittances (together with credit provided by banks), particularly from the Gulf. In addition, from 2003 to 2015, three Gulf countries represented 76% of new foreign direct investments in Liban.

This dependence on the Gulf makes Lebanon vulnerable not only to boom and bust economic cycles, but also to the region’s geopolitical rivalries. The fact that Lebanon does depend on the assent of Hezbollah (which, along with its allies, de facto veto Cabinet decisions) before a major political decision is made, makes this relationship even more volatile, as This is evidenced by the suspension by Saudi Arabia of a $ 3 billion in aid in 2016 to protest against the rise of the movement.

Moreover, following the apparently forced resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri at the hands of the Saudi Crown Prince (also linked to Hezbollah), the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain urged their citizens not to go to Lebanon, which would have had devastating consequences for the Lebanese tourism sector.

In the political domain, Lebanon is dominated by political elites with multifaceted loyalties, be they sects, outside powers, or even themselves. In view of the facts, it is difficult to say faithfully that any member of the political elite has Lebanon’s best interests in mind.

Political apathy is high, and the patron-client-dependent relationship between political leaders and their respective communities only reinforces the reluctance of citizens to consider the idea of ​​substantive political reform.

Quarrels between politicians are more likely to be over their respective share of the booty than over substantial disagreement over politics. Eighteen of the country’s twenty largest commercial banks are wholly or partly owned by politicians and well-connected families, and the political deadlock on how to divide the loot is largely responsible for the long delay in the process. exploitation of energy resources in the territorial waters of Lebanon. Since the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, political paralysis has prevented even a semblance of politicians acting in the best interests of the people.

All of this, of course, makes Lebanon increasingly vulnerable to the geopolitical machinations unfolding in the region. The recent Arab economic summit held in Beirut is proof of this. In particular, he illustrated the weakness of Lebanon’s regional diplomacy as well as the national and regional divisions over Syria and Iran.

With the exception of the Qatari Emir and the Mauritanian President, no head of state attended the summit. According to Mohanad Hage Ali, political analyst at Carnegie Middle East Center, “the lack of participation sends a message that Lebanon lacks agency.”

Lebanon has long been the ground on which the regional powers fought to position themselves, mainly, if not exclusively, to its detriment. This is precisely the point: Lebanon’s sectarian system, which has engendered clientelistic relations between the political elite and their particular segment of citizenship on the one hand, and between the political elite and foreign powers on the other. share – not to mention looting – as well as levels of corruption – is at the very heart of its economic, political and ultimately social malaise.

The government has a plan to restart the economic engine, but that too will ultimately be doomed to failure unless substantial political transformation takes place. Unfortunately, there is no indication that this will be the case.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views and editorial policies of TRT World.

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