Lebanon's new Cabinet is better than nothing

However flawed, the country desperately needed a government to begin to solve its many crises

After months of political inertia, Lebanon has a new Cabinet. It is made up of familiar figures in the country's crisis-ridden political history, and many of them are issuing familiar warnings about hard times ahead. Announcing his new government, Prime Minister Najib Mikati asked people to "fasten their seatbelts" because Lebanon is "in a state of an emergency landing".

The new Cabinet is unlikely to achieve much immediately. But just the fact that one exists means some of the difficult steps ahead to resuscitate Lebanon's economy can begin.

Forming a government has been the single most arduous task in Lebanese politics for too long. Now that it is done, the country can look to longer-term challenges – and there are many. Not a week goes by without new signs of how difficult life in Lebanon is becoming. Yesterday, The National spoke to Marwan Kassar, one of the many Beirut residents who contends with daily water shortages. “You can’t wash the vegetables, you can’t flush the toilet, you can’t shower, you can’t wash your hands,” said Mr Kasser. Unicef estimates that just under half of Lebanon's population is experiencing water shortages, aggravated by another crisis in the country's energy system.

It is better to view the formation of this new Cabinet, then, as an opportunity for those who wish the best for Lebanon to encourage change in earnest. Policymaking in Beirut now has a return address.

Among the first to call on these new ministers will be Lebanon's allies in the international community. The formation of a government has been the central condition for more foreign aid. Failing any obstruction from squabbling politicians or militant parties, including Hezbollah, Lebanon might now be on the cusp of a major package that eases crises across society.

The US Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal has suggested that American aid to Lebanon ought to resemble a "mini Marshall Plan", referring to the US project in 1948 designed to prop up devastated allied governments in post-Second World War Europe. It successfully prevented total political turmoil in the aftermath of the economic ruin created by the war. As desperation aggravates partisan politics in Lebanon, the parallels are obvious. A concerted effort is needed to support Lebanon and avoid its collapse.

Most importantly, the existence of a Cabinet should help ordinary Lebanese people. When the news was announced, the street value of the Lebanese pound jumped to 15,600 to the dollar. Last month, it was 22,000.

A more distant prospect is that the new Finance Minister, Youssef Khalil, might be able to sort out the mess in the country's central bank. Mr Khalil has an unparalleled understanding of the bank, but there is no certainty that he has the will to reform it. Doing so is a necessary step to any potential economic recovery.

Advocates for reform are not represented well in the Cabinet and there are concerns about some of its members. But a new government is at least an important step on the road to national elections next year, an overdue chance for civil society to have its say. So far, this has only happened outside traditional political forums, in trade unions professional associations. Genuine elections next year with proper international accountability could be the moment these groups step into mainstream politics.

The new Cabinet does not save Lebanon, nor does it represent it. But for the first time in months, the country's crisis has at least slowed down.

Published: September 13th 2021, 3:00 AM