July 19, 2024
Saudi Support for Lebanon is Suspended until Guarantees are Available
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Saudi Support for Lebanon is Suspended until Guarantees are Available

By Maria Maalouf

Over the years, Lebanon has at times been the center of the world’s attention on its various affairs and crises. The small country has enjoyed constistent international support, especially since the signing of the Taif Accord,  sponsored by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia three decades ago. The Taif Accord ended the fratricidal strife, providing a temporary respite to Lebanon after years of violent divisions.  Unfortunately,  the pause was short-lived – the country entered the era of Syrian intervention that fostered corruption and its catalysts. Fast forwarding to 2005, after the Syrian occupation that started ten years early, we enter the period following assassination of Rafik Hariri, viewed as a martyr by many in Lebanon. Arguably, his sacrificial death led to the expulsion of the Syria army. However, the wounds resulting from the occupation and the assassination have not healed thus far,  particularly in light of other targeted assassinations against sovereign personalities in Lebanon, the steadily growing dominance of Hezbullah, classified as a terrorist group in many Western countries, such as the US, as well as in some Arab countries.

Hizbollah imposed its control over many agencies of the Lebanese state, as it covered and carried out organized smuggling operations through the port of Beirut. However, many observers avoided addressing the presence of the party in the port and traceable sponsorship of smuggling operations. These operations had visible negative impact on the Lebanese economy; yet despite all the transgressions, the Western countries continued overall support for Lebanon’s support.  October 17, 2019 was a turning point for Lebanon.  The Lebanese citizens of all backgrounds took part in demonstrations calling for accountability until it came to the matter of the uprising to hang symbolic gallows in Martyrs’ Square in the center of Beirut.

At that point, Hezbollah, which tolerated the mass protests for a while,  came out to accuse the participants of collaborating with foreign agents, discrediting itself even with its supports to curry with the mullahs’ regime in Iran. Despite this obvious betrayal by Hezbullah of Lebanon’s national sovereignty concerns, the international community continued to support Lebanon, which was sinking deeper into an economic crisis as a result of the corrupt policies of Hezbollah and its allies. Hezbullah’s devastation of the Treasury, the energy resources, and the financial institutions   brought Lebanon to the miserable state it reached, resulting in the collapse of the national currency and the disintegration of state institutions.

The Lebanese citizens felt the impact of the dissolution of the state and the transformation of Lebanon, which was once the Switzerland of the Middle East, into a failed state. The explosion of the Beirut port on August 4, 2020, was the devastating earthquake that prompted the international community to declare mobilization to save Lebanon’s land and people.  Western delegations flocked to Beirut, led by French President Emmanuel Macron, saying to the Lebanese, “Help yourselves so that we can help you.” If the issue is not with Western and Arab countries – who never ceased economic support – but with the Lebanese themselves, and if there were a bet on the recent parliamentary elections to produce a new political class, the results did not live up to the domestic and international expectations. Despite the loss of Hezbollah and its allies of the majority in Parliament, the forces of change and sovereignty were unable to elect a president of the republic to get Lebanon out of the hell that the era of President Michel Aoun brought it to.

However, the Lebanese people, who are known to be catalysts of problem solving and whose resolve is not frustrated by crises, emerged from the womb of the social and economic turmoil, initiatives led by Lebanese youth to address the grievances of their brothers in the homeland without focusing on their religion or sect. In this context, the Lebanese American Yassin Fawaz known as King Rolodex on social media initiated provision of a range of aid after witnessing the state of extreme poverty that the people have reached. As a result of the economic crisis, many are unable to obtain food and hospitalization, families cannot  send their children to schools. As a result of starting this social media grassroots movement, he succeeded in shedding light on the suffering of the people as a result of these corrupt policies. Fawaz also managed to provide direct ailed while the infernal coalition failed to present any recovery plan.

On the other hand , a French attempt emerged, reportedly with an American green light, to find a solution and a settlement for the presidency in Lebanon to start the wheel of financial and administrative reforms required by the international community. The international community has put in place a set of demands to be met in exchange for any further financial aid. This aid is necessary to  to spare Lebanon from further collapse caused by Hezbollah directly. In addition to actively mismanaging and looting government funding, Hezbullah contributed to the crisis by straining the Lebanese relations with the Arab world through its interventions in Yemen and Bahrain and its attempt to spread drugs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Hezbullah has gained notoriety through smuggling Captagon. It has also earned a bad reputation indirectly through its support for the corrupt allies and friends in the Lebanese political structure.

In this regard, sources revealed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had expressed its keenness in assisting Lebanon. Still, according to the sources, it informed the French that it decided to continue with its existing policy towards Lebanon since 2016 by not engaging directly and taking responsibility for supervising the Lebanese situation. In 2021, Emmanuel Macron met with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss joint economic assistance to Lebanon. Saudi Arabia’s conditions for engaging in this initiative included evidence of a change in political and economic direction inside the country. However, the recent elections failed to clarify this information. As far as the Kingdom is concerned, Lebanese society has not yet reached a consensus on an administration that would satisfy the Arabs, meet Western reform demands, and that would be free of Hezbullah’s hold. Therefore, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia while still committed to the original framework for cooperation with France on this issue, leaves it up to the French administration to provide humanitarian and social aid through the joint Saudi-French fund. Riyadh is not in the position to offer any support or bailouts from its own funding in light of the continued Hezbullah domination.

In conclusion, and in light of Hezbollah’s failure to back down from its negative role in Lebanon and towards Lebanon’s brotherly countries in the Arab world, any support will remain suspended until clear guarantees of change are available.

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