A short-lived stint - GulfToday

A short-lived stint

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib resigned on Aug.26.

Mustapha Adib is an honest man ihn a land where honest men are not in politics. Shortly after being confirmed as prime minister by 90 of Lebanon’s current 120 parliamentary deputies, he toured the upmarket Gemmayze and Mar Mikhail neighbourhoods devastated by the massive explosion that levelled a sector of the port, killed 200, wounded thousands and destroyed or damaged 6,000 homes and businesses.

Reeling from charges of neglecting 2,750 tonnes of deteriorating ammonium nitrate stored with other flammable material in warehouse 12 in the port, the government formed in January by Hassan Diab resigned six days after the Aug.4 explosion and continues to serve as caretaker without authority to enact existential policies.

When Adib, Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany, was nominated he expected to appoint a small cabinet of non-partisan “specialists” to rescue the country from its most serious economic and social crisis at a time covid contagion is mounting. He pledged to act quickly and called on “all the political blocs” to support his efforts to overcome Lebanon’s “sorrows and pains...to rise again.”

Adib holds a doctorate from Montpellier University in France in international law and political science and began his career as a professor in universities in Lebanon and France. He served as adviser and chef de cabinet to former Premier Najib Mikati from 2000 until 2013 when he went to Berlin. He was proposed by Mikati and approved by France ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s Sept.1 visit to Beirut on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of colonial France’s creation of Lebanon by carving it out of Greater Syria.

Macron had not only given his stamp of approval to Adib but also presented the Lebanese political establishment with a road map for reform and recovery which would encourage foreign donors and the International Monetary Fund to provide the financial aid needed to save the country’s economy. Macron also made it clear that if there were no reforms there would be no money.

Adib overestimated the influence France enjoyed with Lebanon’s deeply entrenched political class. He believed he could appoint a lean cabinet of 14-16 ministers free of Lebanon’s patronage system which, with Octopus arms, embraces all sectors of Lebanese life. The first person to acquaint Adib with reality was President Michel Aoun. He declared the cabinet would have 25-26 ministers who would be nominated or approved by the dominant Sunni, Shia, Druze and Christian political factions. Adib resisted until Amal and Hizbollah demanded the finance ministry, which decides on all government expenditures, and other portfolios normally allocated to the Shia community.

The demand by Hizbollah and Amal for the finance ministry springs from leaders of the Shia community, Lebanon’s largest, to be and remain a key political force in the country. Only after the rise of these two groups in the 1980s did the Shias, who had been ruled by feudal bosses and marginalised, stake their claim to recognition and their rightful position in the country. These days Hizbollah and Amal hold the majority in parliament in partnership with Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and smaller factions.

Amal and Hizbollah only claimed finance after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a former Amal finance minister and companies linked to Hizbollah. This intervention, meant to boost US “maximum pressure” on Iran through Lebanese allies, was ill timed and unwarranted. Although regarded by the US and some Western governments (but not France) as a “terrorist” organisation because of its opposition to Israel, Hizbollah fills in for the absent Lebanese state by offering poor Shias clinics, a free care at major hospital, welfare programmes, and development of their home areas. Stronger than the Lebanese army, Hizbollah’s military wing serves as a deterrent to Israeli attack. Thus, Hizbollah has woven itself into the fabric of Lebanese life and is determined to defend the status quo along with other ruling political actions.

Adib never had a chance against the status quo players although Lebanon teeters on the brink of ruin. The honourable Adib resigned on Aug.26, packed his bags and returned to the peace and quiet of his embassy in Berlin. His predecessor is not even in a position to pick up the pieces and no Successor has been named. Lebanon remains in a crisis the political class refuses to address.   

The latest ploy of the deeply discredited sectarian survivors of Macron’s efforts to change Lebanon has been to call upon Interpol to issue arrest warrants for the Russian owner and captain of the ship which off loaded and abandoned the explosive material in Beirut port. This is nothing but a feeble effort to deflect blame from the politicians, administrators and port officials whose refusal to deal with this dangerous material led to the explosion that has destroyed remaining shreds of trust Lebanese had in their rulers and continuing acceptance of the broken system of governance which empowered them.

This leaves the Lebanese delegation negotiating indirectly with Israel over delineating maritime and land borders is in a weak position. Adherents of a deal argue that once borders are resolved, Hizbollah’s military wing can be dissolved as Israel will cease being a threat to Lebanon. This is nonsense: Israel accords no respect to borders. Lebanon is under pressure to agree to a deal likely to be dictated by Israel because Beirut is eager to proceed with exploration for and exploitation of natural gas fields off the Lebanese coast in the expectation that gas exports will provide the foreign revenue needed to rescue the economy.

However, gas cannot provide the quick fix desperate Lebanon needs now. Covid-19 is out of control. Beirut has placed 111 towns and villages in lockdown as infections climb to more than 1,000 a day and the country has suffered a total of 40,000 cases. Located in the governorates of Akkar, Baalbeck-Hermel, North Lebanon, Mount Lebanon, South Lebanon, Nabatiyeh, and the Bekaa, these towns will be monitored by internal security forces as long as the lockdown period lasts. Depleted by health care facilities destroyed in the port blast, Lebanon’s hospitals are struggling to cope with the influx of covid victims, the lack of essential medicines, test kits and protective gear, and the chronic shortage of funds.

The honourable Adib did his best in his brief battle to rescue Lebanon from the men who would destroy their country in order to save themselves and preserve their ill-gotten fortunes. It remains to be seen who will be his successor and how he will fare.


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