Faced with the worst economic and humanitarian crisis in the country’s history, Lebanon steers towards an autocratic state that is waiting to collapse. President Michel Aoun, who was elected in 2016 during a period of democracy in the country, has consolidated power through Hezbollah’s influence and led the country into further political and economic turmoil.
Lebanon gained independence from ruling country France in 1943 and ratified its constitution as an independent country for the first time. In 1990, the Lebanese Constitution outlined the current sect-driven political structure to distribute power among the religion-driven political parties. This system allows for a divide of the three key positions of president, prime minister, and speaker to be between a Sunni Muslim, a Shia Muslim, and a Maronite Christian.
However, this structure fails to take into account party influence and corruption. Hezbollah, which some may argue to be a terrorist group led by Hassan Nasrallah, is able to be highly influential in Lebanese politics due to the abundance of wealth, weapons, and use of border control, among other factors.
The country has prevalently been an autocracy, with a shift to a democratic state from 2010 to 2017. Country leaders, including former president Emile Lahoud and former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, became actors alongside Hezbollah, who turned to violence against protestors, failed to take blame for government failures, and resisted reform.
A new unity government, formed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, included thirty members from different political parties, allowing the country to become an electoral democracy in 2010. But lack of municipal elections for six years and a two year presidential vacancy added little benefits to the country. This lack of a structured government allowed for an absence of autocratic rule in the country.
The election of President Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement party which falsely claims to be the party of anti-corruption, was the catalyst in shifting the country back to an autocracy, as the power from political corruption superseded the demands for reform by the Lebanese people. Aligned under the same political sector as Hezbollah, Aoun and the FPM have had significant ties to Hezbollah. Hezbollah, who have used political violence to gain their power, are protected by their alliance with Aoun. This violence has occurred for years, and has been seen more recently with the violent demonstration to remove the judge for the August 4th bombing investigation.
The state of Lebanon and its autocratic consolidation by President Aoun are a result of the amplification of the rampant government and political corruption in the country and the lack of citizen welfare and government provided services, such as electricity, internet, and food stability. The performance legitimacy of the country is questioned, as over 78 percent of the population living below the poverty line or have been displaced.
Lebanon has a high corruption rating as it is ranked 162 out of 196 for global corruption , with 196 being the country with the highest level of corruption. The country has maintained a low 40’s Freedom House Ranking since 2017, with it currently being 43 in 2021 and being considered “partly-free” due to the intimidation and propaganda utilized by party leaders, Hezbollah obtaining majority seats in the government, and lack of government transparency.
The currency crisis stemming from hyperinflation took a toll on the Lebanese people, and coupled with COVID-19 lockdown, resulted in a crippled economy. To further aggravate the situation, on August 4th of 2020, a protocol failure by the government caused an ammonium nitrate explosion in the port of Beirut, resulting in hundreds of deaths and mass destruction of infrastructure.
The issues resulting from corruption spurred the 2019 October Revolution. Anti-government protests spread all over the country due to citizens being unable to afford basic necessities. With a lack of medicine and adequate healthcare, a currency crisis with the Lebanese pound losing over 90 percent of its value, gas inflation, and a food shortage, the lower class continue to suffer from the consequences of the government’s actions. While civil resistance has been proven to work, the Lebanese people have seen no improvements in the past two years, with the situation actually worsening since 2019. Political leaders need to take vertical and horizontal accountability for the deterioration of the country for there to be any reform.
Protests against the government have continued since then, as the political leaders have done little to tackle the growing socio-economic issues in the country. This resistance comes as the devastating fuel crisis and inflation continue, with gas prices being raised by five times the normal price and food prices going up by 628 percent in two years.
The protests have gained international attention and support, with international institutions like the U.N. and World Food Programme sending monetary and food aid, and countries like France and Egypt organizing aid efforts and sending fuel, to help rebuild Lebanon. However, while other countries and world leaders are stepping up to the plate, the lack of response from the Lebanese government comes as no surprise to the Lebanese people. Hezbollah has criticized the efforts of French President Macron and deemed them “patronizing”, while President Aoun and other government officials call for international support but continue to offshore their money and make no reforms to better the country.
As the country struggled with a government impasse for more than a year, Prime Minister Designate Najib Mikati announced a new government formation in September of 2021, in an effort to halt the collapse of the country. However, the government has failed to meet due to political pressures and refusal from Hezbollah.
With an extreme brain drain and worsening economic situation, it is difficult to predict if the situation in Lebanon will see any improvement. As elections approach in the spring of 2022, non-corrupt officials are the top concern for all citizens. What is first needed is a government reform to address and end the corruption that has become a political norm in the country. Unable to provide basic welfare necessities and gas prices so high that people cannot travel to their jobs leading to unemployment, the country is reaching a devastating status of failure. President Aoun needs to take the necessary steps to ensure survival in Lebanon, and then take action to rebuild the country.
Lebanon will continue to be an autocratic state so long as President Aoun is in office, and the influence and power of Hezbollah is prevalent. Puppeteered by Hezbollah, President Aoun will continue to make, or not make, decisions based on appeasing Nasrallah and remaining in power, with the corruption continuing to poison and destroy the lives of the Lebanese people.
*Photo by Charbel Karam (Unsplash), Creative Commons Zero license.