These are very worrying times indeed in Lebanon, a nation that is tethering on the edge of an economic and political abyss, and the formation of a new government there on Friday has little time to effect immediate deep and widespread reforms to offset multiple crises looming large on its horizon.
Since shortly after that devastating blast in Beirut port a little over a year ago that seemed to underscore the scale of problems the nation faces, Lebanon has been without a government.
Rudderless, it has been unable to address its chronic and deteriorating fiscal condition that has wiped away the savings of most of its citizens as its currency lost 90 per cent of its real value — an economic meltdown that the World Bank considers to be the world’s worst since the mid-19th century.
Overwhelmed too by refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq, attempts to reform its job market have failed, and it remains subject to the influences of Iran and Hezbollah forces that pit their loyalties before those of Lebanon.
It is against these negative and powerful influences that the new government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati must somehow piece together a cohesive programme for action and real change — bringing effective and immediate improvement in the lives of every Lebanese citizen. That is the scale of challenge on a microeconomic level.
On a macroeconomic level, it must quickly establish its credentials with the international community, ensure that the 2022 parliamentary elections take place as scheduled, and restart negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to make the fundamental changes needed for real economic reform.
For any new government anywhere, this is a tall order. For Lebanon, where its political leadership has largely failed to address pressing issues for years, the task is indeed onerous and daunting.
Addressing the nation after the government’s formation, Mikati said “the situation is difficult, it is very difficult. He committed to open Lebanon’s doors to the Arab world and others.
There still remains goodwill towards Lebanon and its struggling people among the wider international community and the Arab world. The reality is that its failure to reach internal agreements against a backdrop of competing powerful interests has contributed to the economic malaise afflicting Lebanon. At least now there is a cabinet in place.
The longest journey begins with the first step, and with the new cabinet that has finally been taken. Now it must quickly pick up its pace.