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Macron in Lebanon calls for speedy government formation

  • Jerome Rivet and Rouba El-Husseini

    Agence France-Presse

Beirut, Lebanon   /   Tue, September 1, 2020   /   07:55 am
Macron in Lebanon calls for speedy government formation A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on August 31, 2020 shows Lebanese President Michel Aoun (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron during a welcome ceremony at Beirut International airport. - Macron arrived in Beirut for his second visit since a deadly explosion on August 4 shook the nation and fuelled a drive for political change. Macron, who first flew to Beirut only two days after the blast, arrived at 9 pm (1800 GMT) for a two-day visit that will include a ceremony marking the centenary of Greater Lebanon. (Dalati and Nohra/AFP/-)

French President Emmanuel Macron called Monday for the swift formation of a crisis government in Lebanon following the designation of a new prime minister.

Speaking upon his arrival at Beirut airport, Macron said a new line-up should be agreed upon "as soon as possible" to rescue the country, which is reeling from the deadly August 4 port explosion and the effects of an economic collapse.

It is Macron's second such visit to hammer home the need for an overhaul of Lebanon's complex sectarian political system, since the monster blast that killed 188, injured thousands and laid waste to large parts of Beirut.

He landed at the airport just hours after under-fire leaders on Monday designated a new prime minister, diplomat Mustapha Adib, to tackle the country's deep political and economic crisis.

Immediately after his nomination, Adib, 48, gave a televised speech acknowledging the "need to form a government in record time and to begin implementing reforms immediately".

He vowed to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund for assistance as Lebanon faces its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war and has been left traumatized by the August 4 explosion.

 

'I want your trust' 

"I want your trust," an AFP correspondent heard Adib tell a resident of the Gemmayzeh neighbourhood, badly hit by the port blast.

Macron, who toured the same area on August 6, arrived in Lebanon Monday to check on progress as he returned for Lebanon's centenary, expected to be a glum commemoration.

French mandate authorities on September 1, 1920, proclaimed the creation of Greater Lebanon incorporating mainly Muslim former Ottoman regions.

On the eve of the centenary, many citizens were planning to leave the country and asked whether Lebanon would live to be 101.

The French president kicked off his two-day trip by calling on 85-year-old Fairuz, the Arab world's last living singing legend and a rare symbol of national unity in the crisis-hit country.

President Michel Aoun and his political ally, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, on Sunday both expressed willingness to change the way Lebanon is governed.

The 85-year-old Aoun, a hate figure to Lebanon's large protest camp which regards him as deaf to calls for change, even urged the proclamation of a secular state.

Under Lebanon's political system, the premier must be a Sunni, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian and the post of parliamentary speaker goes to a Shiite.

Speaker Nabih Berri, also reviled by demonstrators, followed suit on Monday by urging change to the country's confessional political system, which he labeled "the cause of all ills". 

Suspicion was rife that Lebanon's long-serving political heavyweights were only paying lip service to reform ahead of Macron's visit.

"When the political class talks about the introduction of the civil state, it reminds me of the devil talking about virtue, it doesn't make sense," said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut.

"There is a big difference between raising a slogan and really putting it to work."

Adib's designation "will not usher in a new period in Lebanese history and I don't think it will put Lebanon on the road of genuine political development".

The IMF in a statement Monday voiced "hope that a new government will be formed shortly with a mandate to implement the policies and reforms that Lebanon needs to address the current crisis."

 

'Man of the system' 

Adib emerged as a consensus option Sunday and was named premier the next day in a presidency statement.

The close aide to former prime minister Najib Mikati received backing from the country's top political parties. 

Lebanon's last government, headed by Hassan Diab, resigned after the massive explosion, which revived calls at home and abroad for a radical revamp of the state.

The blast caused up to $4.6 billion worth of physical damage and a blow to economic activity of up to $3.5 billion, according to a World Bank assessment.

Caused by a vast stockpile of ammonium nitrate that had languished at Beirut's port for years, the blast was widely blamed on government incompetence and greed.

Those who have taken to the streets in mass protests since last October against the entire political class had already rejected any name that might emerge from the parliamentary consultations.

Adib now faces the daunting task of steering the state through one of the deepest crises of its troubled 100-year history.

Despite promises of change, the process for forming a new government follows the same blueprint that has chronically mired Lebanon in political deadlock. 

Social media was flooded with posts questioning whether a government set up by Adib would be any more effective than Diab's, which was formed in January but failed to lift the country out of crisis. 

Nadim Houry of the Arab Reform Initiative said Adib was "part of the professional advisors class that orbit around Lebanon's oligarchs."

"He is a man of the system," he said.