A presidential vacuum in Lebanon looks inevitable. The evidence can be found in the country's political, economic and social breakdown. Those who doubted this had their doubts dispelled by the first, and perhaps last, session of the House of Representatives in its attempt to elect a new president last Thursday. Can a presidential vacuum be avoided before the constitutional deadline on 31 October?
The facts are relatively simple to put together. There is no clear majority in the House of Representatives for any party, bloc or coalition to elect a new president before 31/10/2022, and there are no serious signs of the possibility of changing this parliamentary reality in the foreseeable future.
Internationally, the world is preoccupied with the war in Ukraine between NATO and its allies, and Russia and its implicit ally China. Moreover, the US is also preoccupied with the inflation affecting its economy, while being committed to providing billions of dollars to the government of Ukraine as its troops continue to fight the Russians. America's European allies are preoccupied with the repercussions of the war in Ukraine on their own precarious economies. All of this reduces the effectiveness of the West's interference in Lebanon's internal affairs.
Israel is preoccupied with three matters: the escalation of Palestinian resistance in the occupied West Bank; the General Election next month; and the dispute with Lebanon, including Hezbollah, over the rights to gas and oil in Lebanese territorial waters. All of these challenges reduce the effectiveness of Israel's interference in Lebanon's internal affairs.
In Lebanon itself, there are no indications of any change in the prevailing balance of power. The Saudi ambassador in Beirut, meanwhile, is stepping up his efforts to mobilise Sunni MPs in order to confront Hezbollah and its allies, and to support a candidate for the presidency with whom the movement has no connection or influence.
A consensus between the various Lebanese political forces on a common approach to the escalating economic crisis is not on the horizon. Thus there is no agreement about how to respond to the demands of the International Monetary Fund to get loans, or how to open up to Iran for oil and accept its offer to build new electricity plants.
Protests, strikes and demonstrations are increasing to the point at which they threaten a widespread social explosion. The police and army look to be incapable of ending the unrest.
All of these potentially dangerous possibilities put Lebanon on the brink of total chaos. That may cause the country to lose whatever political unity it has left and cast it into the unknown.
The radical option for this situation is to turn to Iran and Qatar if the political forces of all affiliations are genuine about finding a safe way out of the crisis that Lebanon is in. This will not be easy, as the most likely to respond to this are the independent progressive national forces acting in cooperation with Hezbollah affiliates and allies. They need to build a cohesive alliance between the various forces which gives their solidarity and cooperation a broad national character and some motivation to rise to the challenge.
The West does not possess enough power and influence to disrupt the unity and solidarity of Lebanese national forces which choose to cooperate with each other. There are a number of indications that this is the case, including the fact that Hezbollah has succeeded in importing petrol from Iran for months and distributing it for free to dozens of social institutions. Iran offered to supply Lebanon with more fuel in batches over five months. Neither Najib Mikati's government nor the local allies of the US could stop these imports, which has all encouraged Iraq to take similar initiatives.
It seems that America's need to soften its sanctions against Iran has pushed it not to object to the moves by some Arab and Islamic countries to open up to Tehran for financial support and oil, especially after Saudi Arabia opened negotiations with Iran mediated by Iraq. Of the Gulf Cooperation Council states, only Qatar has a rewarding oil partnership with Iran and good political relations. Qatar also supports some Palestinian institutions in the besieged Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.
Based on all of this, a realistic and radical way out emerges to avoid the presidential vacuum and its repercussions, and confront the growing crisis, in the form of a consensus between the various national forces of all affiliations, including Hezbollah and its allies as well as others allied with the West. However, it is important that they agree on a clean-handed, non-partisan presidential candidate who is not linked to a specific political party.
A new inclusive government must be approved with full powers and an economic and social development programme to overcome the deepening crisis. Financial and economic support, as well as oil, should be sought from Iran and Qatar. The latter should be involved in oil and gas exploration and investment in the ten blocks along the Lebanese coast, especially in the event that Western drilling and exploration companies stop working under pressure from the US.
All of this should take place while relations are developed with the West and the IMF to obtain aid and loans; indeed, with all potential donors, on condition that it does not affect Lebanon's sovereignty.
This is a realistic and radical option to get out of the crisis and stagnation in which we are stuck here in Lebanon. It deserves to be studied carefully and patiently.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 2 October 2022
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.