France sanctions Lebanese politicians held responsible for the country's stagnation

Paris remains silent on the names of those accused of "corruption" and "blocking" the formation of a government
Macron en Líbano

REUTERS/THIBAULT CAMUS  -   File photo, French President Emmanuel Macron visits the devastated site of the explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon 6 August 2020

Since the explosion in Lebanon's capital, the repercussions have been felt at every possible level. The first consequences came just a few days later with the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, leaving a country now at its worst. The country is plunged into a deep economic crisis that has provoked hundreds of demonstrations across the country, in addition to the political inability to form a government.

The Arab country is suffering the worst economic crisis since the civil war (1975-1990), with the currency plummeting by 90% for more than a year, while wages have held up as inflation has soared. The whole situation has led to the loss of a large number of jobs and poverty has reached almost half of the population since the end of 2019. The COVID-19 crisis and the collapse of the Lebanese healthcare system have further dilapidated aspirations for recovery.

Atalayar_Protestas Líbano
AP/BILAL HUSSEIN - Demonstrators from the Free Patriotic Movement party, chant slogans calling for Syrian refugees to return home as they hold banners and Lebanese flags, during a demonstration near the EU headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019

In addition to the announced economic collapse, the country's leaders are unable to reach agreements to form a government that can take measures to combat this serious crisis. The confrontation between the prime minister, Saad Hariri, and the president, Michel Aoun, is keeping a suffocating society on tenterhooks. At such a delicate moment for their country, both leaders are incapable of reaching an agreement that could break the deadlock. Aoun, together with the Free Patriotic Movement, is demanding the appointment of Christian ministers in the government and raising their number to 20, which allows for the presence of a third blockade in favour of the president. For his part, Hariri insists on a government of specialists based on the French initiative and the tactical support of some forces in the country, such as the Amal Movement.

Following the leaders' meeting and in light of the lack of progress, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, President Aoun's main ally, urged Hariri to include "all" political parties in his cabinet, saying that an exclusively technocratic government would be incapable of implementing the necessary reforms. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that Paris' approach to the Lebanese crisis will have to change "clearly".

Atalayar_Saad al-Hariri y Michel Aoun
PHOTO/DALATI & HOHRA via REUTERS -Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri meets with Lebanese President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon.

Since then, and despite the French president's persistent voluntarism, Lebanon has been plunged into a serious economic and financial crisis. The cedar country is still without a government, with the main leaders arguing over the formation of a cabinet in this country ruled by confessionalism. And for lack of anything better, Paris finally agreed to Saad Hariri's appointment as prime minister, but again to no avail.

In early April, a hundred Lebanese personalities had called on French President Emmanuel Macron to freeze the dubious assets of their politicians, as France is a historic ally of Lebanon. Annoyed by these countless delays, Paris raised its voice in March, with French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling on its European partners to use 'levers' to force Lebanese clan leaders to agree on a government. But so far, French pressure has not borne fruit in the EU. Although a sanctions regime needs a unanimous vote of all 27 EU members to be adopted, at least one country opposed it at the last meeting, according to a diplomatic source in Brussels.

Gebran Bassil
PHOTO/REUTERS - Gebran Bassil, Lebanese politician and head of the Free Patriotic movement

Similarly, Jean-Yves Le Drian announced on 29 April sanctions against Lebanese officials considered responsible for the political deadlock in their country, restricting their access to French territory. This is the first concrete expression of the threats made by France, which is heavily involved in attempts to resolve the Lebanese political crisis, to try to force the political class out of the impasse.

The text does not mention the exact nature of the restrictions, nor the number and identity of the people affected. But one man seems to be in Paris' sights: Gebran Bassile, son-in-law of the President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, one of those who, according to Paris, are mainly responsible for the current blockade. Another question remains: what about Lebanese leaders who hold French nationality? These binationals, such as the governor of the Central Bank, Riad Salame, widely criticised for "covering up" the system, hold French passports and, like him, travel regularly to Paris. Other Lebanese and French leaders, who could be targeted by France, could also escape this restriction on access to the Hexagon.

Atalayar_Jean-Yves Le Drian
AFP/DENIS LOVROVIC - French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian

The street protests sparked by the economic collapse of the Lebanese pound are not the only headaches facing Lebanon. The confrontation between the two countries leaves a situation that does not invite optimism, and one that the International Monetary Fund is beginning to tire of as it does not see a resolution in sight, and has put on the table the imperative need to form a new government to take control of the country in order to implement an aid project that will boost the Lebanese state's economy. However, they demand the formation of an executive in order to be able to carry out the aid without which Lebanon is doomed to ruin.

The fall of the Lebanese pound continues, reaching 15,000 pounds to the dollar on the black market. This decline represents the biggest crisis the country has experienced since the civil war and represents a 90% loss in value in a period of less than a year. Street protests over the depreciation of the Lebanese pound continue to claim lives on a daily basis. The situation of extreme poverty has increased dramatically in recent months, and the threats to Lebanese imports are compounded by the obvious shortage of dollars.

Atalayar_Riad Salame
PHOTO/ARCHIVO - El gobernador del banco central de Líbano, Riad Salame

The causes of a collapse such as the one Lebanon is going through are never simple. It cannot be blamed solely on the collapse of the local currency. Indeed, it is probably corruption and waste scandals that have led to the dire situation. Not to mention, of course, the controversy that still surrounds the Beirut explosion, which is still under investigation eight months later, and it does not seem that the solution to the many unknowns that still exist will be resolved in the very near future. The scandal surrounding the devastating incident that took the lives of 210 people remains a major issue in the country which, it should be recalled, took the Prime Minister Diab and his entire government with it, one of the triggers of this catastrophic phase Lebanon is facing.

While the IMF awaits the formation of a government that will make it possible for aid to reach Lebanon, debts are strangling a country whose citizens are flooding the streets with protests and chaos day in and day out, demanding minimally dignified economic conditions.