Lebanon suffered another political setback on Saturday when Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, named to the position only a month ago, resigned over his inability to form a government.
French President Emmanuel Macron accused Lebanon’s squabbling political factions of “collective betrayal” for undermining Adib, singling out the Iran-backed terrorist organization and political party Hezbollah for especially stern criticism.
Adib, formerly Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany, was tapped for the Prime Minister’s office in late August. His predecessor Hassan Diab resigned, along with most top government officials, soon after the massive explosion at the Port of Beirut on August 4.
Deutsche Welle reported that Adib was trying to put together a cabinet of “independent specialists that could work on enacting reforms,” but the many factions involved in Lebanon’s intricate and corrupt system of sectarian spoils were having none of it.
Hezbollah and the other major Shiite Muslim party, Amal, were especially unwilling to surrender their lucrative hold over the Finance Ministry:
The two groups also named Shiite ministers in the new cabinet and objected to the manner in which Adib was forming the government.
Adib held several meetings with senior Shiite politicians but failed to reach an agreement on how the minister would be chosen. Shiite 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.
DW’s Beirut Bureau Chief Bassel Aridi said sources had told him that they believed, until last night, that Adib would be able to form a new government.
“It seems that yesterday and this morning, there were continuous talks and calls and communications between all parties to avoid this kind of step down.”
“They made no concessions,” French President Emmanuel Macron fumed on Sunday evening after Adib resigned. “Hezbollah cannot operate at the same time as an army against Israel, a militia unleashed against civilians in Syria and a respectable political party in Lebanon. It must not believe that it is stronger than it is. It must show that it respects all Lebanese. These last days, it clearly demonstrated the opposite.”
Macron, who put considerable effort into getting Adib’s government off the ground, thought he had worked out a deal with the “political wing” of Hezbollah. His efforts included the first personal meeting between the president of France and the leader of Hezbollah in decades.
Adib is a Sunni Muslim, a requirement for holding the prime minister’s office under Lebanon’s rules.
“I do not share their ideologies or their ideas, but they are present. I did not put them in power,” Macron said of the Shiite parties. “It’s in part Lebanese women and men who voted for them; some out of fear, and some out of conviction. I am not naive. I am just saying that before reaching conclusions that have profound consequences, it is good to go to the end of the first track.”
“I am ashamed of Lebanon’s political leaders,” the French president concluded.
Macron came up short of accusing Iran of interfering in Lebanon’s politics through Hezbollah, although he mentioned that his negotiations with the group were made more difficult by the United States announcing sanctions in early September against two former Hezbollah-linked ministers over allegations of corruption. The French president glumly predicted that Hezbollah could make the formation of a new Lebanese government all but impossible.
“Hezbollah and Amal are treating the situation in Lebanon like a sporting match in which they can keep playing in extra time until the tides turn in their favor. With the U.S. election looming and Israel widening its network of alliances in the region, the two allies of Iran in Lebanon are further digging in their heels on the basis that accepting political compromise now would compromise their power later,” Middle East and North African program director Lina Khatib of Chatham House told the UK Guardian on Saturday.
Macron updated his deadline for Lebanon on Sunday to give it six more weeks to form a cabinet — a deadline that will fall after the U.S. presidential election. A Shiite source scoffed at the deadline in remarks to Reuters: “Does Macron think that by scolding the main political forces, which have weighty parliamentary blocs, he can change their positions by force?”
On the other hand, Sunni political leader and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri predicted on Saturday that “those rejoicing in the fall of French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative will bite their fingers in regret for wasting an exceptional opportunity to stop economic collapse and initiate reforms.”
The European Union on Monday expressed “disappointment and concern” over Adib’s resignation and urged Lebanon to form a government quickly so it can “reach an urgently-needed agreement with the International Monetary Fund.”
The Jerusalem Post thought the odds were against the swift formation of a reasonably clean and reform-minded government, because Iran uses the Lebanese Finance Ministry as a money-laundering operation, and chaos suits Iran’s purposes better than any government that would satisfy Macron. The Post also speculated that Hezbollah leaders are hoping for Chinese money to stabilize the country if their antics permanently alienate Europe and the Sunni Middle East.