Washington, Paris, and Doha are working to find a solution to Beirut’s nine-month presidential deadlock as well as to prevent another vacuum from plunging Lebanon into a deeper crisis.
A recent meeting held in Doha, Qatar, dubbed the “Quincy Committee,” sought to devise a strategy that can be delivered to the authorities in Lebanon. The countries that made up the committee were the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar. American ambassador Dorothy Shea attended the meeting alongside her French colleague, Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Le Drian, who is Paris’s special envoy to Lebanon, is expected to arrive on July 25 in Beirut after consulting with French president Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna about the conclusions reached in Doha. The French diplomat visited Lebanon in June to have a series of meetings with the different heads of the political parties. He also had spoken with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whom he left with a grave warning, “time does not work in favor of Lebanon.”
Yet it does seem to be working in favor of Lebanese politicians. One example is that the European Parliament had recently decided to extend a waiver for the imposition of targeted sanctions against Lebanese who are undermining the country’s democracy for another year. This is effectively a deadline: Lebanese leaders have one year to vote for a new president before sanctions will be imposed.
This European lifeline is a bit contradictory when compared to Le Drian’s words. Lebanese share the perception that the international community is failing them. Perpetual calls by global leaders like Macron for reform and accountability have fallen on deaf ears. Despite threats of sanctions and punishment for ignoring international standards for good governance, no serious actions have been taken to rectify the behavior of Lebanon’s ruling class. Karim Bitar, an associate professor of international relations at Saint Joseph University, talked to the National Interest about what likely will result from the Quincy Committee and its impact on the presidency and central bank governorship.
“It is quite unlikely that this meeting will solve the presidential deadlock. The last time the five countries met in France, they decided unanimously that there should be no extension to the term of the central bank governor Riad Salameh.”
Salameh, seventy-three, has been governor of the Lebanese central bank since 1993. Prior to the 2019 crisis, he was seen as a financial genius and the man credited for protecting the Lebanese pound (lira) by pegging it to the U.S. dollar. Now, he is regarded with contempt by most Lebanese people and is considered to be the gatekeeper of Lebanese corruption. Ordinary citizens have been unable to access their own bank accounts since late 2019. Salameh is facing investigations at home and abroad for financial crimes such as embezzlement and money laundering.
Salameh denies the charges made against him and has vowed to challenge them. Back in February, the long-time banking chief said he would not renew his term as governor. There is now a discussion among the Lebanese political elite and attendees from the Doha talks about how to proceed on the central bank succession. In Beirut, talk of offering an extension for a limited period was believed to be put on the table. Yet the group from Doha is said to have reached a near-consensus that if there is no extension, all responsibilities should be transferred to the first deputy governor, Wassim Mansouri. Everyone is now waiting to see the results of Le Drian’s visit and how he is gauging where the winds of Lebanese politics are blowing. If Salameh’s term is not extended to a caretaker capacity and the government cannot find a suitable replacement, it will mean that there will be a double vacancy for the first time in Lebanese history: one for the president and one for the central bank governor. The government and the five countries from the Quincy Committee have one week to find a solution. If they don’t, the politics of improvision will continue to rule Lebanon.
Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.
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