13 Sep. 2021 20:15 clock
An analysis by Karin Leukefeld
The multi-billionaire Mikati is one of the richest men in Lebanon. As a member of parliament, Mikati represents the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, which is one of the poorest cities in the country. After the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, Mikati was in office as executive prime minister for a few months until the new elections. From 2011 to 2014 he was Prime Minister.
The situation is difficult, said Mikati, who, according to journalists, cried at the press conference in the Baabda presidential palace. They will work “with hope and determination” and make contact with “all international institutions in order to secure the essential supplies”. The new government is there “to serve the whole country”, nobody is left out. He will “knock on the doors of the Arab countries because we have to rebuild the burned bridges,” said Mikati. “Lebanon belongs to this Arab world”.
The dictates of money
The primary goal of the new government will be to slow down the economic collapse of the cedar state. The country is “on an airplane that has to make an emergency landing,” said Mikati. “Everyone has to buckle their seat belts and hope that we can change the course of this plane soon.” The country’s financial resources have “dried up” and there is nothing left to pay subsidies, Mikati prepared the population for further restrictions. “We have to forget politics and only work for our people,” Mikati appealed to parties, opposition and civil society groups who, in addition to the economic problems, have shut down the country with road blockades and mass demonstrations since the end of 2019. “There is a lot to be done. We have to raise the morale of our people, a kind word can work wonders.”
According to the UN, three quarters of Lebanon’s population are considered poor. A bank card is currently being prepared for around 500,000 of these people who are considered penniless, with which the owners can in future receive food and medication that are no longer to be subsidized by the state, but by international donors and UN aid organizations. At the end of August, Riad Salameh, director of the Lebanese central bank, announced an end to gasoline subsidies. Almost all petrol stations in Lebanon are now closed.
The new government
The new cabinet consists of 23 ministers and one female minister. The only woman in the new government is Najla Riashi and she will head the Ministry of Administrative Development. Finance minister with Yousef Khalil is to become a senior executive of the controversial central bank. Educated in France and Great Britain, Khalil was director of the central bank’s financial operations and is considered a close confidante of Riyadh Salameh, who has been director of the central bank for 20 years. In France, the UK and Switzerland, Salameh is being investigated for money laundering, embezzlement and fraud.
As soon as parliament has expressed its confidence in the new government, negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will resume, Mikati said. The US, France and Germany had repeatedly urged Lebanon to “reform” its ineffective but valuable industries – electricity, water, telecommunications and future gas production – in order to reach an agreement on loans with the IMF. IMF agreements, however, provide for the privatization of state industries and the dismantling of state subsidies. The USA, which holds the majority of votes in the IMF, has signaled that it will approve an IMF loan for the country in the event of “reforms”.
The formation of a government by Najib Mikati was welcomed in the USA, France, Germany and the EU. A spokesman for the Foreign Office in Berlin called for rapid and tangible progress from the new government and the “resumption of talks with the International Monetary Fund.”
Inner Lebanese voices
The Communist Party of Lebanon criticized the new government as “a copy of the previous governments”. No party and no government will achieve a solution in the interests of the Lebanese as long as the denominational system is not overcome. The largest party in the new government is the “Party of Banks and Capital,” said the Communist Party statement. The Lebanese should “tighten their belts” to protect “the interests of billionaires, bankers and big investors”.
Hezbollah chairman Hassan Nasrallah only spoke up after the editorial deadline on Monday evening.
The leader of the far-right Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, doubted that the new government could save the country from the swamp. Lebanon had been driven into the abyss by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM, Michel Aoun) and Hezbollah. Even a Mikati government will not be able to reverse that. Geagea attacked the previous Prime Minister Hassan Diab as a failure. He spoke out in favor of immediate new elections.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 2022 in Lebanon. Mikati reiterated his intention to hold the elections on May 8th. The same applies to the local elections. When asked if the new government would communicate with Syria, Mikati said the government’s job is to serve Lebanon’s interests: “We will communicate with everyone except Israel.”
Political reorganization of the region
Independent and partisan observers expressed their conviction that the movement, which in recent weeks had gotten into the deadlocked regional relations of the Arab states with Iran and Turkey, had accelerated the formation of a government in Lebanon as it had accelerated the defeat of the USA and NATO in Afghanistan .
The Lebanese news broadcaster had already at the beginning of September Al Mayadeen reported on a telephone conversation between French President Emmanuel Macron and the new Iranian President Ephraim Raisi. According to the Iranian presidential palace, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the negotiations in Vienna had been discussed. Tehran has pledged to support the rapid formation of a government in Lebanon, while Paris has reaffirmed its commitment to lifting sanctions against Lebanon and Iran.
Regional economic cooperation or IMF dictation
At the end of August, the Lebanese Hezbollah openly defied the US sanctions and announced oil supplies from Iran for Lebanon in order to alleviate the massive gasoline and fuel crisis in the country. The US government then agreed that Egypt could deliver electricity and gas to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria. The Egyptian delivery is to be financed through the World Bank, for which the approval of the USA as the largest donor is required. Lebanon sent an official government delegation to Damascus for the first time since 2011 and agreed with the Syrian government on the transfer of the Egyptian electricity through the Syrian network. Necessary technical maintenance work on the federal states’ electricity network could delay the implementation of the agreement by weeks.
While some analysts put Western pressure to the fore, with which a future government of Lebanon should be forced to introduce reforms under the dictates of an IMF loan, other observers analyze that it is precisely the Western pressure and sanctions, as well as the US withdrawal from the Middle East have brought the region closer together. The West had demanded conditions for the approval of loans from the IMF and World Bank, while China and Russia offered Lebanon support a year ago without any preconditions. The Sino-Iranian 25-year agreement for the development and expansion of important infrastructure will also benefit Iran’s Arab partner countries, especially Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Mikati government has announced talks with the IMF, but also with Arab countries, in order to obtain financial support.
German military wants to stabilize the strategic “triangle”
While the negotiations for the new Lebanese government were in the final round, the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr called for more engagement of the troops in the Levant. The tensions in the region are great due to disputes over mineral resources and borders, the eastern Mediterranean is a powder keg, quoted the German press agency the “highest-ranking soldier in the Bundeswehr” Eberhard Zorn during a visit by German troops of the UNIFIL mission in southern Lebanon on September 9th.
A contingent of 130 German soldiers is in charge of the sea operations of the UNIFIL mission, which has been controlling the “Blue Line”, an armistice line, between southern Lebanon and Israel since 2006. The sea operation is intended to prevent arms smuggling into Lebanon. The UNIFIL mandate must be “updated”, said Zorn. “Valuable goods such as oil and gasoline are smuggled out of the country. Refugees from Syria are smuggled through the country and taken to Cyprus by boat.” The situation is similar to that in Libya.
The Lebanese armed forces must be better equipped, said Zorn. The navy needs new patrol boats “with robust technology”, drones for surveillance and systems for acoustic surveillance of the sea area. Germany paid for a radar system with ten stations along the coast and provided 23 million euros to upgrade the Lebanese military.
Zorn described the German participation in the UNIFIL mission as “still important” and justified this with the war in Syria, sleepy cells of the Islamic State in Lebanon and the dispute over the gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. He believes it is important that “we maintain stability in the Lebanon-Israel-Jordan triangle,” said Zorn. For strategic reasons, Germany should “best remain at sea”. If “a vacuum should arise in the triangle of these states … ISIS would follow suit, as in all other corners of the world.”
The Lebanese armed forces have so far been financed by the USA and its partners in the region and by NATO. This is to ensure that Lebanon remains inferior in terms of weapons to the highly armed Israeli armed forces – partners of the USA and NATO. The only force that can stop the Israeli armed forces is the Lebanese Hezbollah. The USA and NATO are striving to disarm them.
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