Lebanese prime minister-designate resigns in blow to Macron plan

Zeina Karam
Associated Press

Beirut – Lebanon’s prime minister-designate resigned Saturday amid a political impasse over government formation, dealing a blow to French President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to break a dangerous stalemate in the crisis-hit country.

The announcement by Moustapha Adib nearly a month after he was appointed to the job further delays the prospect of getting the foreign economic assistance needed to rescue the country from collapse. Adib told reporters he was stepping down after it became clear that the kind of Cabinet he wished to form was “bound to fail.”

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib

The French leader has been pressing Lebanese politicians to form a Cabinet made up of non-partisan specialists that can work on enacting urgent reforms to extract Lebanon from a devastating economic and financial crisis worsened by the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut port.

An official in Macron’s office, commenting on Adib’s resignation, described it as “a collective betrayal” by Lebanon’s political parties.

“It is indispensable to have a government capable of receiving international aid. France will not abandon Lebanon,” said the official, who was not authorized to be publicly named.

Lebanon is in desperate need of financial assistance but France and other international powers have refused to provide aid before serious reforms are made. The crisis is largely blamed on decades of systematic corruption and mismanagement by Lebanon’s ruling class.

But efforts by the French-supported Adib have hit multiple snags, after the country’s main Shiite groups, Hezbollah and Amal, insisted on retaining hold of the key Finance Ministry. Their insistence emerged after the U.S. administration slapped sanctions on two senior politicians close to Hezbollah, including the ex-finance minister.

The two groups also insisted on naming the Shiite ministers in the new Cabinet and objected to the manner in which Adib was forming the government, without consulting with them.

After a short meeting with Aoun on Saturday, Adib said he was stepping down after his efforts hit a dead end.

“I have apologized about continuing the mission of forming a government after it became clear that a Cabinet according to the characteristics I had set for it would be bound to fail,” he told reporters.

The Lebanese pound dropped against the dollar following his resignation, trading at more than 8,100 Lebanese pounds on the black market Saturday.

Lebanon, a former French protectorate, is mired in the country’s worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. It defaulted on paying back its debt for the first time ever in March, and the local currency has lost nearly 80 % of its value amid hyperinflation, soaring poverty, and unemployment. Talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout package have stalled.

The crisis has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and more recently by the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port caused by the detonation of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrates. It killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands and caused losses worth billions of dollars.

Adib’s resignation comes a few days after Aoun himself bluntly told reporters that Lebanon would be going to “hell” if a new government was not formed soon.

In a televised address, he criticized his political allies, the Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, for insisting on holding on to the Finance Ministry portfolio in any new government, but also criticized Adib for attempting to form a government and impose names for Cabinet positions without consulting with the parliamentary blocs.

Adib, who was ambassador to Germany before he took the job on Aug. 31, emerged as a candidate for the post of prime minister after he won the support of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and three other ex-premiers. According to Lebanon’s sectarian-based power sharing system the prime minister has to be a Sunni Muslim.

The Shiite groups have accused Hariri of directing Adib in his Cabinet formation efforts and said they refuse to be sidelined. Hariri stepped down last year in response to mass demonstrations demanding the departure of the entire sectarian-based leadership over entrenched corruption, incompetence and mismanagement.

French President Macron has described his initiative including a road map and a timetable for reforms, as “the last chance for this system.”