Lebanon's prime minister-designate steps down in blow to French initiative
September 26 2020 03:28 PM
Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib
Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib

Reuters

Lebanon’s prime minister-designate quit on Saturday after trying for almost a month to line up a non-partisan cabinet, dealing a blow to a French bid aimed at rallying sectarian leaders to tackle the worst crisis since the nation’s 1975-1990 civil war.

Mustapha Adib, former ambassador to Berlin, was picked on Aug. 31 to form a cabinet after President Emmanuel Macron’s intervention secured a consensus on naming him in a country where power is shared out between Muslims and Christians.

Under the French roadmap, the new government would take swift steps to tackle corruption and implement reforms needed to trigger billions of dollars of international aid to fix an economy that has been crushed by a mountain of debt.

Lebanon faced a further knock when a huge explosion on Aug. 4 at Beirut port ruined a swathe of the capital.

Adib, a Sunni Muslim under the sectarian power-sharing system, announced he was stepping down but said Lebanon must not abandon the French plan or squander Macron’s goodwill.

“I stress that this initiative must continue,” he said after meeting President Michel Aoun, a Christian. He wished his successor well in the “hard task” of forming a government.

Politicians, whose loyalties tend to run along confessional lines, had promised Paris they would have a government in place by mid-September.

But Adib’s efforts stumbled in a dispute over appointments, particularly the post of finance minister, who will have a key role in drawing up an economic rescue plan.

“It’s a setback, but we’re not giving up. These people need to realise that this is bigger than Lebanon,” a French diplomatic source after Adib’s resignation.

Talks with the International Monetary Fund on a vital bailout package stalled this year, and one of the cabinet’s first tasks would have been to restart the negotiations.

The cabinet formation hit a roadblock over a demand by Lebanon’s two main Shi’ite groups, Amal and the heavily armed Iran-backed Hezbollah, that they name several ministers, including finance, a position previously held by a Shi’ite.

Adib held several meetings with Shi’ite politicians but failed to reach agreement on how the minister would be chosen.

Shi’ite leaders feared being sidelined as Adib sought to shake up appointments to ministries, some of which have been controlled by the same faction for years, politicians said.

Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said Iranian-backed factions might have wanted to stall the cabinet formation to await the result of a U.S. election on Nov. 3.

President Donald Trump, seeking re-election, has taken a tough line on Iran and its allies, and his administration imposed sanctions on Lebanese politicians who back Hezbollah.

Amal leader and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said his group still backed the French plan, while Suleiman Frangieh - head of a Christian group allied to Hezbollah - called the initiative a “golden opportunity that Lebanon must not lose.”

Former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, a leading Sunni politician who backed Adib, said anyone celebrating the collapse of Macron’s initiative “will bite your fingers in regret.”

The street value of the Lebanese pound, which has plunged from an official peg of 1,500 to the dollar since the economic crisis erupted last year, weakened further after the news. One trader said it was now trading at 8,200 from 7,700 on Friday.




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