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New government in Lebanon

Former diplomat Mustapha Adib has been appointed the new prime minister of Lebanon as the country recovers from the Beirut blasts earlier this month

Bassem Aly , Tuesday 1 Sep 2020
New government in Lebanon
Lebanon’s newly appointed premier Adib (C) during a press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda (photo: AFP)

Former diplomat Mustapha Adib was chosen by 90 Lebanese MPs in the 120-member parliament to serve as Lebanon’s new prime minister on Monday, including by MPs affiliated to former prime minister Saad Al-Hariri’s Future Movement and the Shiite group Hizbullah.

Adib will form a new government after his predecessor Hassan Diab resigned from the post last month. Diab’s decision followed the resignation of the foreign, justice and environment ministers, as well as eight MPs.

It also came in the wake of a severe political and economic crisis that Adib will now have to deal with.

He said he wanted “to form a government in record time and to begin implementing reforms immediately, starting with an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).”

This makes sense, especially in the light of the country’s long-running rubbish crisis, continuous power cuts, and increases in the prices of basic goods.

The Lebanese pound has lost about 60 per cent of its value against the dollar, and the country has a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 150 per cent. A third of the population is jobless, and 300,000 people lost their homes, 6,000 were injured and the number of those who lost their lives exceeded 200 in the explosions that took place in Beirut at the beginning of August.

World Bank figures suggest that the explosions caused damage of $4.6 billion, harming Lebanon’s economy by some $3.5 billion.

Such issues will be part of talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, who arrived in Beirut on Tuesday for the second time since the port blasts in Beirut. Macron called for the formation of a new government “as soon as possible,” saying on Twitter that he was returning to Beirut to “review developments regarding emergency aid” and “provide the necessary conditions for reconstruction and stability.”

At a recent donors’ conference, world leaders vowed to find 253 million Euros ($298 million) in humanitarian aid for Lebanon. But political reforms are the prerequisite for the delivery of the money.

This could explain why political forces across the spectrum in Lebanon have worked so quickly on choosing a new head of government. But the political context is as important as the economic one.

Deen Sharp, a fellow at the LSE in London, said that Lebanon was suffering from a “political crisis that has produced the current human catastrophe in the country.” The main question is whether those in power will make the necessary reforms to “release the money.”

Lebanon “is able to achieve a large segment of the assistance it needs due to the fact that money is there,” he said.

For the Lebanese political forces, Adib might be a “Plan B” prime minister, as Al-Hariri, a Sunni leader and former prime minister, was reportedly earlier nominated by parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri and Lebanese President Michel Aoun, both pro-Hizbullah.

But Al-Hariri refused the nomination on 25 August. “I declare that I have not been nominated as the head of the new government, and I hope that people will stop circulating my name,” he said in a statement.

“The most important issue at this stage is maintaining the Lebanese people and Lebanon’s chances of rebuilding the capital, achieving reforms that have been delayed, and opening room for the involvement of friends in the international community to help in facing the crisis and investing in growth,” he added.

Al-Hariri resigned as prime minister in October 2019 amid protests against all the country’s political forces due to the deterioration in social and economic conditions in Lebanon. He failed to head a new cabinet due to disagreements with Hizbullah, which then backed Diab to replace him.

Meanwhile, three people were killed this week following a gunfight between Hizbullah supporters and pro-Al-Hariri tribes in Khaldeh, which led the Lebanese army to send in troops to restore security in the southern town.

The fight reportedly started when Hizbullah supporters raised religious banners that angered the tribes.

Robert Rabil, a political science professor at Florida Atlantic University in the US, said that “I myself have lost complete faith in all the warlords and all those who constitute the majority of the political system,” in Lebanon.

There was a need for an international investigation to look into “what really happened” in the blasts, he said, though he was unsure whether the Lebanese government would allow it.

Reform is hard to achieve in Lebanon as thousands of people who support political forces including Hizbullah and the Shiite Amal Movement work in state institutions.

Such considerations indicate that Adib, as with many of his predecessors, will have a tough time ahead in creating a consensus among the country’s political forces for a new cabinet lineup.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly 

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