Friday, July 29, 2005 Will a new, Syria-free government bring prosperity to Lebanon? | Article service:

"Will a new, Syria-free government bring prosperity?
The Daily Star Middle East | Osama Habib


BEIRUT: The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon were seen as a sign of change in a country gripped by numerous political and economic problems. For the first time in 15 years the Lebanese are, in theory, free from Syrian hegemony.

Many Lebanese, especially the anti-Syrian opposition, partially blame Lebanon's slow GDP growth and high public debt on Syrian meddling in local political affairs.

Now that the Syrians are out and the Lebanese are in full control of their destiny, the question everyone asks is: Will the new government be able to bring prosperity to Lebanon?

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a trusted friend of the late Hariri, is now in the driver's seat thanks to the landslide victory in the last parliamentary elections of Hariri's son Saad and the backing of the U.S. and France.

To encourage Siniora to implement ambitious economic reforms, the West promised to provide assistance to Lebanon if a viable plan is presented to donor countries.

The amount of assistance was never disclosed, but some sources said that Lebanon may get a soft loan similar to the one offered to the late Hariri during the November 2002 Paris II conference.

But Hariri, who received $2.5 billion in a soft loan to reduce debt servicing, failed to implement any of the promised reforms due to conflicts with Damascus-backed President Emile Lahoud and his supporters.

The U.S. and France will not accept any more excuses for delaying reforms now that the Syrians have left, and the two countries have made this clear to Lebanese politicians.

The other challenge the new government will eventually tackle is the remaining clauses of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 which call for the disarmament of Hizbullah and the Palestinian groups in the refugee camps."

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