Lebanon: After Political and Literal Firestorm, Saad Hariri Poised to Be Prime Minister Again

Saad Hariri
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty

Ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri is poised to lead the embattled nation yet again, recent reports indicate.

Hariri resigned from the role a year ago after mass protests demanded government reform to address Lebanon’s ongoing financial crisis. He served as Lebanon’s prime minister twice before, from 2009 to 2011 and 2016 to 2020, and currently serves as the leader of Lebanon’s Sunni Future Movement party.

“Hariri has begun consultations with the president, parliamentary speaker and Lebanese political blocs about forming a government that would implement [French] President Emmanuel Macron’s roadmap for reforms and unlock international aid,” Reuters reported on Tuesday.

The Sunni leader has “said his mission was to form a six-month government of technocrats to rapidly carry out the reform plan set out in Macron’s initiative.”

Lebanese Christian politician Gebran Bassil criticized Hariri on Tuesday for promoting himself to lead the French-backed initiative, designed to address Lebanon’s spiraling economic crisis.

“We were not aware, and nobody informed us, that President Macron had appointed a high commissioner … to Lebanon, and made a prefect for us to oversee his initiative and the extent of its implementation,” Bassil said in a speech to his supporters.

“Whoever wants to head a government of technocrats has to be a technocrat himself,” he added.

Bassil heads Lebanon’s biggest Christian bloc, the Free Patriotic Movement party. He previously served as Lebanon’s foreign minister from 2014 to 2020. Bassil is also the son-in-law of current Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

President Aoun had planned formal talks on Thursday to nominate Lebanon’s next prime minister. Lebanon’s latest prime minister, Hassan Diab, resigned two months ago, along with most of his cabinet, following a public backlash against the government’s alleged responsibility for a devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut on August 4, which killed over 200 people. Lebanon now needs a new prime minister who will form a new government to replace Diab and his cabinet.

The president was “expected to assess if Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri could rally [the] support of a majority of parliamentarians to try to form a new government,” during Thursday’s planned talks. However, Aoun announced on Thursday that he had postponed the consultations for one week until October 22. The president’s office said Aoun decided to postpone the talks after receiving requests “from some parliamentary blocs due to difficulties emerging that need to be solved.” Reuters reported on Thursday that “two prominent Christian politicians had indicated in the last 24 hours that they had reservations about nominating Hariri.”

Lebanon boasts 18 different religious sects. The diverse country has been ruled along sectarian lines for over three decades according to a 1989 mandate known as the Taif Agreement, which “allocates key government positions to a particular religious group,” according to the Middle East Monitor. “Under the agreement, which ended the 15-year civil war [1975-1990], Lebanon’s president must be Maronite Christian, the prime minister Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the parliament Shia Muslim.”

Lebanon is currently suffering from its worst financial collapse since its civil war.

“Foreign donors have made clear there will be no fresh aid unless Lebanese leaders launch reforms to tackle graft and improve governance, and engage in IMF [International Monetary Fund] negotiations,” Reuters noted. “French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a roadmap that could unlock billions of dollars of international aid, conditional on major reforms which Hariri pledged to support.”

 

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