Just when we were not expecting it anymore, good news came from Beirut on September 10. Finally, a Lebanese government was formed, officially enthroned at the presidential palace in Baabda. To reach this result, it took thirteen months of political stalemate.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab had resigned on August 10, 2020, six days after the gigantic explosions that had ravaged the port of Beirut and the historic districts around it, killing 220 Lebanese and injuring 6,500.
This government, chaired by the telecommunications giant Nagib Mikati, composed of 12 Muslims (5 Shiites, 5 Sunnis, 2 Druze) and 12 Christians (5 Maronites, 3 Greek-Orthodox, 2 Greek-Catholics, one Armenian-Orthodox, one Latin-Catholic), was constituted in accordance with the Taif criteria (October 1989).
This historic agreement, which put an end to the civil war that started in 1975, and which constitutes the last major amendment to the Lebanese constitution, provides for a strict balance of power between Christians and Muslims. It is an agreement that all four million Lebanese citizens have good reason to criticise, but which, to paraphrase Churchill, remains the worst constitution apart from all the alternatives.
None of the ministers chosen have been warlords in the past. They are not great leaders, but rather technical ministers, who are less subject to the traditional political cartel than their predecessors.
It is a diplomatic success for Emmanuel Macron, who managed to obtain both political support from Iran, an American carte blanche, and co-operation between the Maronite president of the Lebanese Republic and his Sunni prime minister who holds a parliamentary majority. This is the proof that the President of the French Republic, who created Lebanon in 1920, was right to invest a lot to save the country, notably by visiting it twice.
Now, such a government can only be judged by actions. It has seven urgent matters to deal with. First, it must conduct a clear and comprehensive audit of the public accounts, so that it can begin serious collaboration with the IMF and other international financial institutions. At the CEDRE conference, held in Paris in April 2018, Lebanon had obtained more than eleven billion dollars in aid of all kinds. But then it had not carried out any of the reforms that conditioned this aid.
Secondly, the new cabinet must reinvent an energy strategy for the country. It is not normal that the Lebanese suffer so many power cuts. Some of the electricity is produced, at prohibitive prices, on Turkish barges off the coast of Beirut. As Council President Mikati said, he would maintain the abandonment of state subsidies for hydrocarbons, the traffic of gasoline to Syria will automatically stop.
The third emergency for the government is to stop drug trafficking from Lebanon. Saudi Arabia stopped buying Lebanese fruit and vegetables after it discovered captagon pills hidden in shipments of bananas and pomegranates.
Fourth, the Mikati cabinet will have to re-establish an independent judiciary, capable of pursuing a thorough investigation into the causes of the explosions at the port of Beirut.
Fifth, it will be up to the new authorities to re-establish good relations with all Arab countries, starting with the Gulf states, which were once generous donors to Lebanon.
The government will also have to stabilise its relations with its Israeli neighbour, by concluding the armistice agreement foreseen in the Taif Agreement and by proceeding with the maritime delimitation of the exclusive economic zones on this Mediterranean shore.
Last but not least, the Prime Minister will have to put in place the legal and material framework necessary to make sure that the legislative elections of June 2022 are conducted in a fair and transparent manner. They will be an opportunity for all reformers opposed to the confessional political system in force since 1920 to count themselves.
Will the Mikati government engage deeply and sincerely on these urgent issues? Has France obtained guarantees from the Lebanese political cartel that it will not resume its old avoidance tactics?
The Americans, the Europeans and the Gulf petro-monarchies all want a peaceful and prosperous Lebanon. But they can no longer stand the procrastination of the Lebanese political class. France has played a big role in Lebanon. It must therefore remain extremely vigilant, so that its efforts lead to concrete reforms. Otherwise, its diplomatic breakthrough will turn into a ball and chain.
This article was first published in Le Figaro.