Hezbollah loses influence in Lebanon

At the beginning of 2022, a number of important events took place at the forefront of the internal political life of Lebanon, which lay the trends of political development in the new year.

First, Lebanese President Michel Aoun signed a decree to hold nationwide parliamentary elections in the country in May 2022, two months after the initial date previously proposed by the Lebanese parliament. They will be held for the first time since the start of mass protests in the country in 2019 and the subsequent crisis of governance and power vacuum.

Secondly, in October 2022, the term of office of the president himself will formally expire. It is noteworthy that literally the day before, M. Aoun made an ambiguous statement about his readiness to leave the presidency, making the reservation that he could have stayed at the helm if such a decision was approved by the Lebanese parliament. It is clear that as the deadline for the end of the presidential term approaches this fall, the intrigue will only grow. Aoun’s final maneuver in this regard can only be understood after the results of the parliamentary elections in May 2022, if they take place, of course.

Third, by the beginning of the year, the watershed between the Shiite Hezbollah party and the Free Patriotic Movement, led by Gibran Basil, the Lebanese president’s son-in-law, had finally emerged. The latter controls almost half of the seats in the new coalition cabinet, formed in September 2021, headed by the new prime minister, Najib Mikati. Basil’s tough statements about Hezbollah made in early January were a response to the actual sabotage by the Shiite movement of the work of the cabinet since its formation in September last year, when it received the post of finance minister.

“Another representative of Hezbollah in the government — Minister of Information J. Kordahi — was forced to resign in December after the scandalous statement on Yemen, which quarreled Lebanon with the monarchies of the Persian Gulf and led to a deep split within the Lebanese cabinet. Basil’s tough statements about “serious political consequences” of Hezbollah’s actions to systematically block the government’s work mean that pragmatic considerations are finally giving way in the face of a new phase of internal confrontation in the political arena of Lebanon.

It is too early to talk about a complete breakdown of the tactical alliance between Basil and Hezbollah, but the outlines of a serious split in early 2022 are clearly visible. Much will depend on the process of preparation for the parliamentary elections and the pre-election balance of power, which may require new tactical alliances and coalitions from the parties.

The financial and economic factor will also play a huge role in the new alignment of forces. For many years, Hezbollah’s popularity in the Shiite regions of Lebanon was ensured by the creation of a powerful and essentially alternative to the government social protection system through charity and sources of funding through Islamic tax instruments. This made it possible to ensure financial stability and guarantee the population free medicine and education, the provision of consumer microcredits, etc., and, accordingly, loyalty and constant support from the general population.

Today, in the context of the crisis and limited financial resources, the margin of safety of the pro-Iranian organization and its social institutions may be at the limit. Even despite the availability of financial resources, the problem of the banking system crisis, as well as the shortage of money supply and cash in the country cannot be solved without the participation of international financial institutions. The maximum established limit for cash withdrawals at the bank today is $ 400 per person.

On the socioeconomic front, President Aoun and his son-in-law Basil will seek to create an alternative to Hezbollah’s social model, which depends on the support of Syria and Iran, ahead of parliamentary elections. To this end, in addition to strategic negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the Lebanese president is seeking to establish stable financial and economic ties with the rich monarchies of the Persian Gulf. Investments and loans from international financial institutions will not come as long as Lebanon slows down the implementation of structural economic reforms according to the IMF’s prescriptions.

Accordingly, M. Aoun seeks to find a socio-economic alternative to the plans of “Hezbollah” among the wealthy Sunni monarchies, which are ready to allocate large financial resources for political goals in Lebanon, in order to weaken the organization and the Iran behind it. If by the parliamentary elections in May 2022 the Sunni establishment of Lebanon manages to create such an alternative, then it will be possible to form a powerful, alternative to Hezbollah model of social support for the population, and then a political split with may become inevitable. On the other hand, a complete rupture will paralyze the work of the Cabinet of National Salvation, which will lead to a new crisis of power and jeopardize the very conduct of the parliamentary elections; therefore, such a scenario for President M. Aoun and J. Basil hardly seems to be a winning one. Accordingly, in the coming months they will have to at least balance in their relationship with Hezbollah, trying to somehow activate the work of the cabinet of ministers.

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Sardar Mesto

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