The hope of unblocking the catastrophic economic situation in Lebanon is reborn this Friday. At the end of a meeting between President Michel Aoun and the Prime Minister designate, Najib Mikati, the country announced that it had a new government. The Lebanese had been waiting for this announcement for thirteen months, a sine qua non condition for obtaining the international aid the country so badly needed.
24 ministers, including only one woman, who are expected to hold their first meeting on Monday at 11 a.m. (8 a.m. GMT). It remains to be seen whether this team will be able to carry out the reforms requested and save the country from bankruptcy. Members have been nominated by the ruling parties and there are several new faces. Among them are technocrats like Firas Abiad, director of the Rafic Hariri government hospital, spearhead in the fight against the coronavirus, or Nasser Yassine, professor and director of the Crisis Observatory at the American University of Beirut.
Without government since the explosion of the port of Beirut
The country had been without a new government since the resignation of Hassan Diab’s cabinet, a few days after the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, which left more than 200 dead and devastated entire neighborhoods of the capital. Since then, the unprecedented economic crisis that the country has been going through since the summer of 2019 has continued to worsen, the World Bank calling it one of the worst in the world since 1850.
With rampant inflation and massive layoffs, 78% of the Lebanese population now live below the poverty line, according to the UN. Free fall of the local currency, unprecedented banking restrictions, gradual lifting of subsidies, shortages of fuel and medicines, the country has also been plunged into darkness for several months, power cuts peaking until more than 10 p.m. daily.
Relaunch talks with the IMF
Many challenges await the next government, in particular the conclusion of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with which talks have been interrupted since July 2020. For the international community, this is an essential step towards getting out. Lebanon from the crisis and unblock other substantial aid.
So far, donor countries have been content to provide emergency humanitarian aid, bypassing the country’s official institutions, due to the lack of a reforming government. On Friday, Najib Mikati pledged to provide international aid: “I will contact international bodies to secure the most basic things in life” for the Lebanese, he said.
“The bet of rotting”
For researcher Sami Nader, the IMF is “the only place” where the next government will have to go. “There is no other way out of the crisis,” he said. Najib Mikati also pledged to seek help from Arab countries, while relations with the wealthy Gulf monarchies have been strained for several years, against the backdrop of a regional standoff between Shiite Iran, an ally of the powerful Lebanese movement. Hezbollah, and the Sunni Gulf.
The Prime Minister also promised the holding of the next legislative elections, scheduled for May 2022, on time. They are considered crucial for the beginning of a renewal of the political elite, almost unchanged since the civil war (1975-1990).
Despite threats of sanctions from the European Union (EU), warnings and accusations of “organized obstruction” in recent months, Lebanese political leaders have continued their usual bargaining. At the beginning of August, French President Emmanuel Macron, who closely follows the Lebanese file, then accused the ruling class, widely hated by the streets and having survived a popular uprising in the fall of 2019, of making “the bet of decay “.