Demonstrators hold flares and Lebanese flags as they protest outside the house of former Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora in Beirut
Demonstrators hold flares and Lebanese flags as they protest in Beirut (File) Image Credit: Reuters

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab believes an early parliamentary election could help solve his nation’s crisis. That would indeed remove his responsibility to tackle the triple crises which have dragged Lebanon over a cliff.

An economy on its knees, a deadly virus ravaging the population coupled with an explosion that destroyed or damaged half of the capital, not to mention a population united in its fury against those in power present a bleak picture which even the very best of governments would struggle to cope with.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s secretly champing at the bit to disappear into the sunset.

The inescapable truth is that Hassan Diab’s government like many of those that went before ranks with the very worst on the planet.

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beirut to see the damage for himself and to offer comfort to a grieving nation. Surprisingly he was mobbed in the street as a saviour. All he needed was a white horse

- Linda S. Heard

No matter how many parliamentary or cabinet deck chairs are shuffled or how many new faces on seats Lebanese politicians are almost all cut from the same corrupt, wheeler-dealing, sectarian-centred cloth. For decades the system has been manipulated to ensure influential political dinosaurs protected by armed militias wield power within certain spheres.

Iran's influence in Lebanon

That said for their own survival they are obliged to fall in with the diktats of the country’s biggest cheese Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, whose loyalties rest with the ayatollahs in Iran while claiming to be a Lebanese patriot.

Among the many leading figures he influences is the Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian who heads the Free Patriotic Movement which signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah in 2006.

None of the joint aspirations within that MOU have been achieved yet the Movement continues to legitimise an organisation that most of the western world and many in the Arab world have branded terrorist.

More on Lebanon

Hezbollah’s tentacles are not only wrapped around South Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut, they have infiltrated the Lebanese armed forces.

They also control government ministries and, according to several Lebanese commentators, the now decimated port where almost 3,000 tons of confiscated ammonium nitrate were stored in an unsecured warehouse for the past six years. In spite of government officials being alerted of the danger on numerous occasions. Tens of port employees aka fall guys have been arrested.

Nasrallah would certainly have been aware of the danger because in 2016 he warned Israel that Hezbollah’s rockets were capable of killing many thousands of Israelis simply by targeting ammonium nitrate stored within the port of Haifa. Israel took the threat seriously and promptly moved the chemicals.

One is left to wonder why international journalists were barred from visiting ground zero in the aftermath and why the President has refused an international investigation into the incident despite the people’s clamour for transparent justice for the victims’ families and for all who have lost their homes and businesses.

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) speaks with a woman on August 6, 2020, during a visit to the Gemayzeh neighbourhood, which suffered extensive damage from the August 4 explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. Image Credit: AP

Resilience of the people 

The Lebanese are a stoic people accepting life’s knocks with fortitude and good humour but after decades of civil war, conflicts with Israel, a de facto Syrian occupation, joblessness, electricity cuts, mountains of garbage polluting streets and rivers, and now a currency heading towards worthlessness, they’ve had enough.

They will no longer accept lipstick being smeared on their political system; they demand the end to the divisive confessional system inherited from France as well as a fresh new leadership committed to putting the people’s well being before its own interests.

No doubt propelled by the shared history, culture and language that bind France and Lebanon, the French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beirut to see the damage for himself and to offer comfort to a grieving nation. Surprisingly he was mobbed in the street as a saviour.

All he needed was a white horse. People told him not to give a single Euro to their corrupt government; others begged him to free Lebanon from Hezbollah while others called for a ten-year French mandate, a call echoed by a petition that garnered more than 61,000 signatures in 24 hours before it was taken down.

That more than anything proves that the Lebanese have lost all trust in their own politicians to lift them out of the quicksand.

Without doubt Macron is well intentioned but he has no magic bullet. He wants a new pact between the political elite and the people and he made it clear that while he will coordinate international aid there will be no major aid monies flowing into the hands of the Lebanese government.

A conference on Sunday was scheduled to be attended by representatives of the EU, the UK, China, Russia, Egypt, Jordan and others designed to generate emergency support. The Arab League is also mobilising its members to that end.

Lebanon will be rebuilt and in the meantime ordinary folk are clearing away the rubble and are offering shelter to those the blast rendered homeless. Many countries have donated supplies of medicines, medical equipment and food for the hungry.

With so much genuine goodwill, this too will pass. But the tragedy is that as long as Hezbollah calls the shots Lebanon’s potential as a prime tourist, business, banking and investment destination as it was in its heyday cannot be fulfilled.

— Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.