On 22 January, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the formation of a new “technocratic” government, calling it a “rescue team” that will steer the country out of its economic crisis. However, the riots continued, and the demonstrators still occupy the streets. What are their demands? Will they leave the streets, what will this brand new government do for the nation’s economy, and how will it affect the country’s shaky international position? These topics are addressed by Amal Abou Zeid, a former member of the Lebanese parliament from the Free Patriotic Movement.
After about three months of crisis, Lebanon has a new government, a technocratic new cabinet of ministers, as called for by the demonstrators on the streets. The new Prime Minister Hassan Diab is from the country’s academic circles: a professor at the American University of Beirut. I believe this new government answers the people’s demands. However, we must fully understand that it needs to gain the confidence of the Parliament, which means appeasing the so-called 8 March Coalition parties – Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement etc., given that it does not include members of these parties. That is, again, what the people demanded; these parties, which bear the responsibility for the “failed state”, should not be represented in the government.
Currently, the demonstrators want to give the new government a chance to judge the ministers for their actions: the cabinet has just started working and has yet to win the voters’ confidence. However, the ministers have asked for a period of 100 days, after which demonstrators can evaluate their actions and decide if they meet the needs of the people on the streets. That does not mean that demonstrators will retreat; they will most probably stay in the streets and assert their demands, just to maintain pressure on the government. They believe that if they return home, the parties and corrupt politicians who had taken advantage of their positions for the last 30 years will be back, playing around and failing to meet the needs of the people.
On January 27, the Parliament convened to vote on the 2020 budget. That is a serious matter, and many people remain on the streets, raising their demands with respect to fighting corruption and imprisoning those involved, among other things. Honestly speaking, they are really entitled to raise their social demands, because for the last 30 years, the Lebanese economy had been based on services like banking and tourism without engaging in any major activity in the fields of agriculture, infrastructure, industry, AI or high technologies. This is another reason why the people are occupying the streets and have the support of many others who remain at home.
Today, we need to develop all the aforementioned sectors; after all, Lebanon must for example have IT for energy, since it has oil and gas resources. If the new government put its efforts into developing these sectors, Lebanon will be on the right track. Thus, more people will buy less from abroad and support the Lebanese currency and agricultural products, helping to restore the economic balance.
With regard to the impact of this government on the international position of Lebanon, we have to be realistic. Lebanon is part of the Middle East, which is now witnessing the US-Iran escalation, aggravated by the assassination of Soleimani. Hezbollah is involved in this escalation, because it is fighting alongside the Syrian army and the Russian troops against the Islamic radicals, whose remnants are still active in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Consequently, Lebanon is suffering from this struggle. Although this issue will not be resolved tomorrow, the Lebanese situation will depend on the settlement or the resolution of this confrontation and of the Syrian crisis. I would like to assume that Lebanon would return to normal only when the major actors sit around the table and discuss the political solutions for all the problems occurring in the Middle East – and on top of them, this Iranian-American conflict.