Lebanon had hit the headlines in September 2022 when people holding bank accounts had held up commercial banks which had locked most depositors out of their savings since an economic crisis took hold three years ago, leaving much of the population unable to pay for basics. The country has been witnessing crises on multiple fronts-the economy; the political arena; and security.

On the political front Lebanon is being run by a caretaker government and is also without a President. Lawmakers have repeatedly failed to elect a successor to Michel Aoun, whose mandate expired at the end of October 2022.

Lebanon has traditionally been a political playground where other countries have interfered in determining who would become the country’s President. In 2008, a six-month presidential vacuum was brought to an end by a Qatari-mediated deal backed by other international powers. Michel Aoun was also elected through a deal in 2016 with Saad Hariri elected as Prime Minister.

The latest reports suggest that the powerful Iran backed Hezbollah wants Suleiman Frangieh, 56, an heir to an old Lebanese Christian political dynasty and a friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to become the President.

He had also figured as a contender in 2016 backed by Hezbollah which ultimately threw its weight behind Michel Aoun. While Hezbollah’s endorsement gives Frangieh strength it does not guarantee his election. Frangieh has the support of House Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal Movement party but could fall short of the necessary 65 votes that would allow him to be elected in the 128-member legislature.

Despite being a Christian, Frangieh’s candidacy is also opposed by the Lebanese Forces (LF), a party which also has some 20 lawmakers in parliament and is led by Christian politician Samir Geagea. Hezbollah’s own Christian allies who have a 19 member bloc in the Parliament have also opposed Frangieh’s candidacy.

Hezbollah and its allies are known to have close ties to Syria and Iran, while their opponents in the Christian and Sunni Muslim communities traditionally look to the West and Sunni-led Gulf Arab states. In keeping with this character of allegiances Saudi Arabia has also opposed Frangieh's candidacy reportedly because of his close relationship with Assad and Hezbollah.

With no possible bipartisan candidate in sight, representatives from France, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar had met in Paris recently to discuss how to end the political stalemate in Lebanon. But they could come to no agreement on one presidential candidate acceptable to all.

Early this month France had again hosted representatives from France, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt to seek a possible solution to the months of political deadlock in the devastated country.

So the Lebanese people continue to live in a country without a President with little possibility that the rival factions in Parliament, with their different foreign patrons, would be able to arrive at an understanding.

The political stalemate has implications for the security situation. While it was not unusual for top officials to be given extensions of their tenure if vacancies could cause instability, this privilege was not given to Lebanon's powerful General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim.

Belonging to southern Lebanon Ibrahim had controlled the General Security directorate since 2011 and was said to have been an effective regional interlocutor with good ties with Hezbollah and links with Western governments. His responsibilities covered not only general security functions but also political, security and diplomatic tasks, leading to his description as a “man for difficult missions.”

He had been involved in liberating abductees in Syria and Iran and in discussions with Israel to demarcate the maritime border. Among the Shiites of Lebanon Ibrahim was seen as a potential successor to Nabih Berri, leader of Amal and the current speaker of Parliament. Hezbollah had reportedly tried to get a parliament session held to extend Ibrahim's term but was unable to secure enough support.

In order to ensure that no vacuum was created on the security front the medical committee of General Security had approved an extension of Brig. Gen. Elias Baissari’s commission for nine months . He had suffered in a car bomb attack in 2005.

He would take over from Ibrahim only until the appointment of a new permanent Director General when and if a new president was elected and a national government formed. Baissari had served in the same position earlier when Ibrahim was abroad.

Meanwhile, the families of over 200 victims of the 2020 Beirut port bomb blast were waiting for the crawling investigation to provide justice and fix responsibility. The blast had been caused by hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate unloaded at the port in 2013.

Justice Tarek Bitar’s investigations had been opposed by Hezbollah after he sought to question and prosecute some of its friends and allies. Politicians whom Bitar had sought to question, including Hezbollah allies, made dozens of legal challenges disputing his right to interrogate them and saying he had overstepped his powers.

Bitar was suspended in 2022 by Lebanon's top public prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat ostensibly for mishandling the investigation. Ghassan Oweidat had also ordered the release of those detained in connection with the explosion. Badri Daher, who headed the customs authority at the time of the blast and was the most senior official detained following the explosion, was freed.

Justice Bitar was able to resume work on the basis of a legal interpretation challenging the reasons for his suspension. A section of members of Parliament had supported Justice Bitar and called for Ghassan Oweidat to be held accountable for steps taken against the judge and his investigation.

Justice Bitar had charged Lebanon’s then Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, and two other former ministers with homicide with probable intent. He had also charged Major General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s domestic intelligence agency, and Major General Tony Saliba, head of another security body, in connection with the blast as well as former army commander Jean Kahwaji.

On resuming work Bitar said he would continue his probe until he issued an indictment. Given the nature of politicians’ shenanigans in Lebanon, the families of the victims could only pray for Justice Bitar to succeed.

The devastation of the economy was actually the most vile manifestation of the lack of concern for the people by the establishment. Lebanon has been facing an economic crisis since 2019. The financial system had collapsed after decades of profligacy and corruption.

According to the United Nations the crisis had left eight in 10 Lebanese poor. The World bank had called the situation a deliberate depression “orchestrated” by the ruling factions. The country had lost its right to vote at the UN for the second time in three years because of unpaid contributions.

The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a January 17 letter, listed Lebanon along with Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, South Sudan and Venezuela as countries that had lost their U.N. General Assembly vote. Lebanon’s foreign ministry had said payment of the U.N. dues would take place "directly, in a way that preserves Lebanon’s rights at the United Nations".

The Lebanese currency had lost nearly 98% of its value against the U.S. dollar since 2019, and the country faced triple-digit inflation, spreading poverty and a wave of emigration. The Government had estimated losses in the financial system at more than $70 billion, mostly as a result of the actions of the central bank.

Lebanon had signed a staff-level agreement with the IMF nearly one year ago but had not met the conditions to secure a full programme.

Politicians and banks had stymied the recovery by not taking action on the IMF’s call for financial sector losses to be distributed in a way that preserved the rights of small depositors and limited recourse to state assets.

Commentators and analysts said Lebanon had no capital control law, there was no legislation to resolve the banking crisis and the unification of multiple exchange rates for the Lebanese pound had not taken place. The likely scenario was disorderly dollarisation, collapsing public services and the wiping out of remaining deposits.

The functioning of the banking system was being investigated by prosecutor Ghada Aoun. She had frozen the assets of five top banks and their board members, although they were not charged with any wrongdoing.

She had charged Societe Generale du Banque du Liban (SGBL) and its chief executive with "money laundering" as part of her probe into transactions between commercial banks and the central bank. Aoun had filed the same charges against Bank Audi and some of its executives.

Her actions had irked the authorities with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi asking that the security forces ignore the decisions taken by her and not to act on them. They said she had been going beyond her authority and mandate.

Lebanon's Higher Judicial Council had chastised Mikati and Mawlawi telling them to reverse their decisions which flouted the principles of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.

Given the current scenario and the inability of politicians to look beyond their own interests it is quite likely that the crises, or at least some impact from them, would impinge on the lives of the next generation of youth and those without the necessary links either to the politicians or the powerful armed groups like the Hezbollah.

There also appears no sign that the Lebanese would not continue to face direct involvement in their country’s affairs by foreign powers-each with its own agenda-on political, security and economic grounds.

Cover Photograph: Suleiman Frangieh, 56, an heir to an old Lebanese Christian political dynasty, is backed by Hezbollah for President.