After weeks of uncertainty, Lebanon has a new government. Following the resignation of the country’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, who had come under pressure from weeks of street protests, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun appointed to the position Mr. Hassan Diab. At first sight, Mr. Diab’s appointment could be seen as a pragmatic, technocratic solution to Lebanon’s seemingly insurmountable economic and political challenges. However, many are concerned that the new government is just a façade for a power grab by Hezbollah in an attempt to capture all the country’s levers of power.
The tense political environment and looming economic crisis have been made worse by attacks on Lebanese army units which, according to Al Ahram’s Hassan Al-Qishawi, are putting even more pressure on Lebanon’s new government: “Even before a vote of confidence could be held in the new Lebanese government, the country shouldered further security woes with the attack early this week on Lebanese army units in Hermel, a Hezbollah stronghold, leading to the deaths of three soldiers.... Some Christian leaders in the area criticized the weakness of the government after the Hermel attack, amid fears the government would grow even weaker owing to Hezbollah’s hegemony. The main victims of the government’s weakness in the area are Sunnis and Christians, and the latter have taken a firm stance amid the deteriorating conditions in Lebanon.”
Given the increasing uncertainty, it is not surprising that, as this report by The National points out, Hezbollah has tried to rally support for the government, warning that “Lebanon may not survive if its new government fails.… urging the country's divided politicians not to obstruct the Cabinet that was backed by the Iran-aligned militant group. Hassan Nasrallah also said there was no point in politicians trading blame over the causes of the crisis, after former prime minister Saad Hariri on Friday accused his rivals of pushing the country to near-collapse.... Mr. Nasrallah said that, while Hezbollah backed the Cabinet, it was not ‘Hezbollah's government’, and that opponents who described it as such were making it more difficult to combat the crisis and damaging Lebanon's international ties.”
According to the Saudi Gazette, while governments from the Gulf countries have stayed aloof from the new government so as not to legitimize Hezbollah’s consolidation of power, Iran has been quick to show its support: “Iran is ready to help Lebanon's ailing economy, the speaker of its parliament was quoted as saying Monday during a visit to Beirut. Lebanon is going through its worst crisis in decades as a debt burden combined with slowing capital flows bring the small country to the brink of collapse. Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, on the first visit by an Iranian official since the new Lebanese government was approved last week, said Tehran was willing to help.... The lack of electricity and other basic services was one of the reasons why thousands of people of all ages, sects and regions took the streets in mid-October to demand the wholesale removal of a political elite they see as corrupt and incompetent.”
Such gestures are eyed with suspicion by regional observers, including Arab News’s Khaled Abou Zahr, who criticizes Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon and calls on Lebanon’s armed forces to side with the demonstrators: “To serve Iran’s regional interests, Hezbollah has used the Lebanese state as a shield to allow it to continue its military and terrorist operations, while in the process consistently weakening the country’s institutions.... Nasrallah is no longer just Hezbollah’s secretary-general — he is now officially the supreme leader of a failed state. It is nevertheless not too late to save Lebanon. Yet this cannot be done without the support of the armed forces. It is time for the Lebanese Army to stand with the people and answer their call. It is high time it responded to what protesters have been crying and bleeding for: One country and one army.”
Asharq Alawsat’s Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is equally critical of Hezbollah and asserts that many of the country’s economic problems are a result of Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon’s main revenue streams, thus making any economic recovery almost impossible: “Whether Diab is a front for Hezbollah or not, the truth is that the entire Lebanese state is being held hostage by Hezbollah and its affiliates. We do not expect him to dispel the doubts, either among protesters or foreign governments. He will be tested by the international community, where he must prove that he is not a puppet controlled by Hassan Nasrallah and his allies. Mere reassurances will not be enough to satisfy the West.”
But a recent Gulf News editorial questions whether any amount of economic intervention can prevent Lebanon’s approaching “collapse,” which may very well come as a result of the country’s sectarian politics: “Is there still a chance for Lebanon to get out of its financial crisis? Or is the small Arab country, one of the most indebted in the world, heading for collapse?... Today, Lebanon needs to listen to its people and respect their demands for reforms and early elections. The political elite has been stalling in their response to the widespread protests, hoping that people will eventually get tired and leave the streets. But any delay will only make things worse for Lebanon. It is at a dangerous juncture: bankruptcy looms, and the regular donors this time will not bail out a corrupt and tired old system.”
That message is echoed by Hanna Saleh, also writing in Asharq Alawsat, who considers the creation of the new Hezbollah-backed government as a temporary setback for the protesters, but one that makes the need to demand real change even more pressing: “What happened on 11 February is a bright spot in the course of the revolution. ... With the real aspect of rescue becoming clear, the struggle has entered a new stage, because, with this murky government in denial of total collapse, there is a need to blow the sirens of danger once again. They will exploit the severity of the division to carry out all of the policies and violations, deluded that they are capable of crossing bridges against those who dare to say that the shortest road to restoring dignities and rights is to entirely get rid of the confessional system.”