An effervescent meeting of the League of Arab States this morning, as the solving of the Lebanese crisis was on the agenda. There was a general agreement amongst the member states that they need to be in solidarity with Lebanon, and join their efforts together to revive the Lebanese economy. “Nobody can govern us better than ourselves”, the Lebanese delegate uttered, as some partner states raised concerns about transparency. Somalia mentioned Lebanon’s huge corruption problem, to which the Lebanese delegate not-so-subtly responded that other LAS members also have corrupted politicians and institutions — a remark that went uncommented but may not play in favour of Lebanon, as its independence ironically depends on the support of their neighbours.
Specific states have their own strengths as they provide aid to Lebanon. Tunisia, arguably the most democratic MENA (Middle-East and North Africa) state, plans on drawing from the experience of their own democratic transition to propose “negotiation between the different parties in parliament” to “achieve a stable and gradual shift to democracy”. Saudi Arabia is open to help revive the energy sector in Lebanon, but has some conditions. “We expect the complete reform of the government, and especially the demilitarisation of Hezbollah. This is a crucial step to ensure not only Lebanon’s sovereignty but most importantly pave the way for a sustainable growth of the energy sector”, the Saudi delegate told The New York Times. Somalia and Oman pointed out that some states were not able to help Lebanon within a bilateral framework, and thus discussed the possibility of using the Arab Investment Fund, provided that Lebanon shows signs of transparency.
Restructuring the Lebanese economy also means restructuring the country’s infrastructure and financial model. For the Lebanese delegate, this would allow them to “take weight off the system” and “allow better distribution of resources to cover the basic needs”. One lever to that end is to redistribute refugees. Lebanon has proportionately welcomed a greater number of Syrian refugees than some of their neighbours. Some member states, such as Libya, highlighted that the responsibility of handling the refugee crisis in Lebanon also rests on Syria. To the consensus that “refugees are not numbers”, the Lebanese delegate responded sarcastically, pointing out that several member states keep their doors shut to immigration.
Syrians have a homeland to go back to, but cannot, given the current political situation. For Palestinians, the situation is even worse, as they do not even have a homeland. They are left stranded in Lebanon, where they have faced stigmatisation for decades — one culminating point being the Sabra and Shatila massacre in September 1982. Lebanon denies Palestinian refugees social and economic rights that other Arab countries, such as Jordan, do grant. For the Palestinian representative, granting these rights will enable Palestinians to help rebuild Lebanon. “We do not need men guarding our safety. We wish the right of employment, education, health, and the ability to participate in the democracy once the new government is formed”, they told The New York Times.
Lebanon wants to stand tall and on their own. But this won’t happen without the help of their neighbours. The Lebanese delegate stresses that they prefer regional cooperation over bailouts from the IMF or the World Bank, which would worsen their debt. However, it seems that this situation gives the upper hand to other Arab states, who carefully conjugate their will to help Lebanon with their own national interests. The tone of the meeting is at times patronising, but to the Lebanese delegate: “They are debating what I propose, so everything is under control”.
- Walter Stuart, Political Correspondent for The New York Times