Lebanon was left reeling on Sunday without a hint of any end to the multiple crises, after its prime minister-designate stepped down following the failure of talks to form a government, despite international pressure.
Mustapha Adib’s resignation on Saturday ended efforts to hammer out a reformist government. All this is happening in the wake of a colossal August 4 explosion in Beirut that killed 190 people, injured thousands and ravaged swathes of the capital
To this end, Lebanon’s top Christian cleric said the nation faced “multiple dangers” that would be hard to weather without a government.
Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, leader of the Maronite church, Lebanon’s biggest Christian community, said Adib’s resignation had “disappointed citizens, especially the youth, who were betting on the start of change in the political class.”
Many top politicians, both Christian and Muslim, have held sway for years or even decades. Some are former warlords.
Rai said Lebanon now had to navigate “multiple dangers” without a government at the helm.
Rai’s comments were echoed on the streets of Beirut, where mass protests erupted in 2019 as years of mismanagement, corruption and mounting debts finally led to economic collapse, paralysing banks and sending the currency into freefall.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who had pressed Lebanon’s fractious politicians to reach a consensus so that Adib was named on Aug. 31, is to due to speak about the crisis in a news conference in Paris later on Sunday.
Political parties had pledged in early September, during a visit to Lebanon by French President Emmanuel Macron, to form within two weeks a cabinet of independent ministers tasked with ending the country’s economic malaise.
Under the Lebanese constitution, the president must now hold further talks to nominate another prime minister to form a government, but it is a process that risks dragging out and even failing.
Adib’s efforts were hampered by the claims of two Shiite formations, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, and its ally Amal, led by parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who demanded the finance portfolio.
According to observers, the Shiite allies dug in their heels after recent US sanctions were imposed on a minister of the Amal party and two companies affiliated with Hezbollah.
Adib’s decision to step aside 26 days after his appointment has left the people of Lebanon feeling as though they are back to square one.
Earlier this week, Lebanese President Michel Aoun warned the country was headed to “hell” without a new cabinet.
The Arabic-language newspaper Annahar warned of “grave repercussions”, and said all eyes were on Macron, who is due to hold a news conference on Sunday evening.
The UN envoy to Lebanon, Jan Kubis, on Saturday reacted with disbelief: “Such a degree of irresponsibility when the fate of Lebanon and its people is at stake!”
Even before the devastating Beirut port blast, the country was already mired in its worst economic crisis in decades, and its entrenched political class was dealing with widespread popular discontent.
After the country for the first time defaulted on its sovereign debt in March, it launched talks with the International Monetary Fund towards lifting the country out of crisis, but those discussions soon stalled.
Now, with no new cabinet expected any time soon, analyst Maha Yahya said the country was left with a “lame duck” caretaker government.
Many are worried the country is headed from bad to worse, with daily novel coronavirus infection figures on the rise and increasing security incidents reported in recent weeks.
On Saturday night, an attack on an army post in north Lebanon killed two soldiers and an alleged “terrorist”.
Police killed nine alleged Islamic State group-linked suspects in a manhunt over a murder last month, a security source said Sunday.
A senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Qabalan, said on Saturday Adib’s resignation as the economy collapsed could “be described as a disaster”, calling for national unity to deliver reforms, the state news agency reported.
The cabinet formation effort stumbled after Lebanon’s two main Shi’ite groups, Amal and the heavily armed Iran-backed Hezbollah, demanded they name several ministers, including finance, a key role as the nation draws up a rescue plan.
Saad al-Hariri, a former prime minister and leading Sunni politician, said in a statement he would not be involved in naming any new premier and said the French plan was “the last and only opportunity to halt Lebanon’s collapse”.
A French roadmap laid out a reform programme for a new government to help trigger billions of dollars of international aid.
In other news – Gauteng grade 1 and 8 parents given a week to accept or decline placement offers
The Gauteng Education Department said parents who’ve used its online school admissions portal to apply for placement of their children will be given just seven days to accept or decline their offer. Learn more