Analysis. The Elysée Palace is said to be working on a Hariri-Bassil rapprochement and for a sort of Doha 2.0 summit with all Lebanese political representatives to break the impasse.

Clashes on all sides, only Macron has reason for optimism in Lebanon

These are days of apparent calm in Lebanon, at least on the political side, because clashes with the army, roadblocks and protests are now the daily normal. Only apparent calm, because the political stalemate continues and the government has not yet been formed. They are decisive days, with a level of confrontation that is more intense than ever.

The exchange rate with the dollar—at the official rate still equivalent to 1,515 Lebanese lira—after hitting 15,000 lira per dollar on the black market, showed a slight improvement (12,000 lira) in view of President Michel Aoun’s statements on Wednesday evening: he publicly accused the Lebanese Central Bank of being the main culprit of the financial crisis, called an extraordinary meeting of the interim government and requested a legal investigation.

Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law and head of the Free Patriotic Movement, appears to have flown to France to meet with Macron, but the news was understandably neither confirmed nor denied: Bassil, one of the most controversial and influential figures in Lebanese politics, although he holds no official posts, has been the politician most directly targeted by the thaura (uprising) that broke out on 17 October 2019.

Bassil himself appears to be behind the cold conflict between Aoun and Hariri, which has been impeding the formation of a government for almost six months—Hariri would like a government of technocrats and to remove the parties’ veto power over parliamentary decisions. Bassil, former Minister of Telecommunications, then Energy and then Foreign Affairs, was also sanctioned on November 6 under the Magnitsky Act by the Trump administration for his ties with Hezbollah.

The Elysée Palace is thus said to be working on a Hariri-Bassil rapprochement and for a sort of Doha 2.0 summit (after the first, in May 2008 put an end to a security and political crisis that lasted 18 months), i.e. a summit with all Lebanese political representatives to break the impasse.

This would be a great victory scored by Macron, both in terms of foreign policy, given the French aims of re-establishing their old hegemony in the Middle East, for which Lebanon would be the gateway, and in terms of personal prestige.

On Wednesday, the head of French diplomacy, Le Drian, applied pressure and reiterated his previous accusation against Lebanese politicians of a “crime of non-assistance to a country in peril. (…) This crisis is not linked to a natural disaster. This crisis has clearly identified responsible parties.”

However, the statements and rumors are conflicting, and on Wednesday Allouche, vice-president of the Future Movement said that “Hariri has no interest in meeting Bassil before the formation of a government,” and suggested that the negotiation with the party leaders will take place under the patronage of Aoun.

Then, there is the Covid front. Wednesday saw 3,120 infected and 33 deaths, a slight decrease after the very tight lockdown measures. A new curfew for the month of Ramadan has been announced to prevent gatherings during the traditional Iftar at sunset. The vaccination campaign, which began on February 15, continues at a slow pace, but the usual corruption is casting long shadows over it.

The scandal of secret vaccinations for Aoun, his entourage and some members of his party, outside of any public protocol, is still fresh in the public mind, while the usual mechanisms of favors are in motion and each political group is providing vaccines to its supporters through different channels.

Large segments of the population, including the nearly two million Syrian refugees, are left waiting. These are power games and court intrigues, while the people are increasingly at the mercy of the crisis and left to their own devices.

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