Analysis

Lebanon's recovery linked to Hizbullah disarmament, experts say

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

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A man walks past a closed hotel in the main commercial market in Jounieh on December 1st. [Joseph Eid/AFP] 

Lebanon is at a crossroads that politicians and economists say will lead it to economic recovery and prosperity or desolation and isolation, depending on the path it chooses to take.

Hizbullah has brought the country to the brink of collapse, they said, pointing out that the party's disarmament, which is both a Lebanese and an international demand, is the only possible path by which Lebanon can regain its prosperity.

Since 1982, many countries have called for Hizbullah's disarmament, in light of its terrorist activities, with an increasing number designating it as a terrorist group.

Hizbullah's interference in foreign conflicts such as the ongoing war in Syria, in violation of Lebanon's policy of dissociation, has damaged Lebanon's relations with its neighbours, as well as its economy.

Lebanon "is closer to collapse than prosperity due to many underlying elements", former minister of state Roger Dib told Al-Mashareq.

These include "the complexity of the Lebanese socio-political structure, the volatile region in which it is located, corruption of the ruling class and Hizbullah's involvement in regional conflicts", he said.

According to Dib, the problem with Hizbullah has its roots in the Taif Agreement, which excluded the Iran-linked party from a provision that called for the disbanding of militias and handover of their weapons to the Lebanese military.

After the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, an act of terrorism linked to Hizbullah, the party began to exert undue influence over the Lebanese political scene and involved itself in regional conflicts, Dib said.

"What would save Lebanon from collapse is a bold proposition by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, who called for distancing Lebanon from the region's conflicts and disarming Hizbullah," he said.

Hizbullah's disarmament must be carried out within the framework of a national defence strategy, led by the president, with the participation and support of all Lebanese political parties, he said.

Political reform is necessary

Prominent scholar and Hizbullah opponent Mohammed Ali al-Hajj al-Ameli told Al-Mashareq he does not believe Lebanon's problem is an economic one, because the current crisis is rooted in the structure of the political system.

"Our economic problems can be remedied, but there is a need to achieve political reform to modernise the structure of the Lebanese government," he said.

A sense of national identity needs to be fostered, he said, as at present Lebanon is fragmented and "each group has its own initiative for the country".

It also is imperative to eliminate the militias that have unduly influenced Lebanon since the early 1990s, he added, noting that arms outside state control impede structural reform within the system.

Hizbullah alone is not the root of the problem, he said, pointing to the existing political system that paved the way for its emergence and rise.

"What credibility do political parties have if they demand the disarmament of a party after contributing to its growth and legitimising its weapons?" he asked.

Lebanon should make it a priority to establish a modern, non-sectarian political system that would not enable any party to act outside the state or carry weapons, he said, so that none will feel the need to establish their own initiative.

Lebanon needs help to recover

Hizbullah has ruled over Lebanon for years, both directly and through its allies, with devastating consequences for the country, economist Violet Ghazal al-Balaa told Al-Mashareq.

Implementing the party's agenda has bankrupted Lebanon, which now has to bear the effects of the US sanctions, she said, noting that Lebanon will not be able to recover on its own.

There is no way for Lebanon to regain its prosperity "except by disarming Hizbullah through diplomatic means, which would bring Lebanon back to the international community", al-Balaa said.

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescue programme would inject between $8 and $10 billion into the country over a five-year period, she noted, provided the required reforms are implemented.

These reforms also need to be carried out in order for the country to take advantage of an $11.5 billion international aid package, which would greatly benefit its infrastructure and stimulate businesses, including tourism.

Lebanon's economy is capable of recovering at a record speed if it is free of Hizbullah, al-Balaa added, noting that the party has brought about economic sanctions that are concerning to venture capitalists and investors.

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