Lebanon’s lost allure in the Gulf

Whenever Lebanon was teetering on the financial brink in the 1990s, the country’s then prime minister, the late Rafic Hariri, boarded his private Boeing twin-aisle aircraft and flew to Riyadh.

The kingdom would arrange emergency help that staved off the economic pressures, until the next crisis loomed.

Lebanon’s already large public debt has multiplied many times since then, and Hariri’s son Saad is now prime minister, facing a similar problem.

Beirut is up against deep financial strain but the release valve on which his father could depend is shut.

Rafic had a larger-than-life stature and deep trust in Riyadh and the UAE, but today the situation is very different.

The elder Hariri also had a strained but sometimes working relationship with Hezbollah – right up to the moment he did not.

The group is accused of his 2005 assassination and refuses to hand over four of its members indicted by a UN tribunal for involvement. But Hezbollah’s influence has grown over the years.

The Iran-backed militant group has increasingly used its status as the most significant armed player in Lebanon to undermine regional stability, intervening in Syria and challenging states elsewhere in the Middle East.

Its actions have helped to fan tension across the region.

The group, which has the loyalty of a large bloc in the Lebanese Parliament, puts Lebanon at risk of losing regional assistance during crises.

Some states are reluctant to help now, concerned that their money may end up in the hands of Hezbollah, say sources involved in international efforts to support the country economically.

A major donors’ conference in 2018 pledged $11 billion (Dh40.4bn) to help the Lebanese economy.

The pledges were in the form of infrastructure and other projects that are conditional on reforms some financiers consider near impossible to carry out under Lebanon’s dysfunctional political system.

Saudi Arabia promised $1bn in Paris. But since the pledges may not be paid out without reforms, their cost could be minimal.

A Lebanese official whose department would be in charge of carrying out many of the projects reportedly resigned a few weeks ago, saying there was no political will in Beirut to implement them.


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