Lebanon’s Anti-Corruption Campaign Nominally Targets Economic Crisis, Pursues Political Victories in Practice

Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his political allies face accusations of corruption. (The Kremlin)

Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his political allies face accusations of corruption. (The Kremlin)

The Lebanese public and international community have attributed Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in history to rampant corruption, although the scope and depth of recent anti-corruption campaigns remains in question. Al-Monitor cites widespread approval of anti-corruption measures in past weeks, but warns that such policies will direct public attention away from more empirical reasons for economic collapse.

Lebanon’s economic crisis has indeed garnered international concern. By January 2019, Lebanon’s national debt reached $85.32 billion, which totals approximately 150 percent of GDP and marks an 8.4 percent increase over the past year. Trends in Lebanon’s monetary support from global partners indicate reductions in grants and increases in loans (which now constitute 90 percent of Lebanon’s international aid), but increased volatility and plummeting foreign confidence in Lebanon’s economy have come to worry donors. In response, the Lebanese government has strengthened its anti-corruption commitments to appease foreign partners and mitigate fears of political inaction.

An anonymous judiciary source told Asharq Al-Awsat Newspaper that, “the war against corruption is an all-out one,” and “no accomplice must be spared.” Still, the international community questions the extent to which increases in high-profile corruption cases mean real progress. Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S., is the most outspoken proponent of anti-corruption measures, and has accused former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of wasting $11 billion in budgeting during his tenure. Siniora is an ally of current Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who clashed with Hezbollah leaders over parliamentary restructuring in November 2018. Hezbollah may see anti-corruption as a means to exact revenge on Hariri and his allies for previous disagreements—still, no party appears focused on re-appropriating embezzled or wasted funds.

Joe Macaron of Al-Monitor suspects that Hariri’s close alliance with the U.S. has furthered Hezbollah’s drive to oust his inner circle. The United States has investigated Hezbollah’s ties to Iranian state-sponsored terrorism since the 1990s, but Hezbollah’s gathering of dirt on Hariri’s cabinet might force Washington to back down. Furthermore, Hezbollah’s support for stricter anti-corruption legislation does not include provisions to rebalance Lebanon’s budget or meet growth targets for international donors. Instead, the party appears determined to settle political scores at the cost of Lebanon’s much-needed economic turnaround.