There is a good reason why all agreements that have governed Lebanon’s politics life and represented turning points in the future of the country are named after foreign cities: the Cairo agreement, the Taif Accord and most recently the Doha agreement. Among these agreements there were several attempts in Geneva and Lausanne and of course all of them were sponsored by regional powers of the time.
Lebanese political leaders cannot come to terms on their own; they invite foreign intervention and need arm-twisting and sometimes bribery in order to compromise and seal an agreement. The current political gridlock that followed the financial collapse and the street protests is clear indication that the political system can only generate crises and is unable to enforce institutional solutions to problems.
The international community and the Lebanese were expecting atotal meltdown and wondering who wouldcome to Lebanon’s rescue this time. The horrific Beirut Port explosion forced the hand of the international community to intervene and France took the lead.
President Macron offered an emergency treatment for the ailing country through a clear road map that begins with forming a mission Cabinet in order to contain the spiraling collapse of the country. So far, all the political factions have welcomed the initiative but when it came to honoring their commitments, they returned to their old practices of fighting to keep their privileges under the banner of protecting the interests of their respective sects.
There is skepticism in Washington and among Arab Gulf countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, about whether the French initiative can achieve its goals while the main local power, Hezbollah, maintain it is weapons.
However, Washington is willing to give French President Emmanuel Macron a chance although it is not willing to waiver on its hard-line policy toward Hezbollah. The debate on whether a solution is possible while Hizbullah maintains its arsenal notwithstanding, the French initiative lacks a political dialogue on a parallel track to update the flawed political system.
Most of Lebanon's current problems can be traced back to a political system that is filled with loopholes that allow warlords-turned politicians to shield their corruption from accountability. One can easily make the case that the current problems ranging from garbage collection to generating electricity and the budget deficit are the results of sectarian bickering among the ruling elite.
The French initiative also lacks an enforcment mechanism in case Lebanese factions renege on their commitments. In 1990, Syrian forces crushed the mutiny against Taif led by General. Michel Aoun and imposed the new agreement with the blessing of the international community.
Who is willing to enforce any new accord?
The only stick in town is Western sanctions, mainly US ones, which are increasing at an accelerating rate. It has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that the Lebanese political factions that have ruled the country since the end of the Civil War can neither build a state nor handle the day-to-day affairs of this small country. And they certainly can’t get the country out of the current mess that they have created.
When the Civil War ended in 1990, warlords became the political leaders of the country, and the country's problems today are the results of sectarian warlords who failed to become statesmen and instead built a failed state.
For the French initiative to take off and give the country room to breathe, a political dialogue must be called for. This time only Paris is willing to spend some diplomatic capital and so far the Macron has not lost faith.
Mouafac Harb is a veteran American-Lebanese journalist based in Beirut.