Over time, a successful completion of the government formation process in Lebanon appears increasingly implausible. Sunni Prime Minister-designate Saad Al-Hariri and President Michel Aoun, a strong ally of Shiite Hezbollah, seem unable to resolve their differences of opinion.
On Saturday, Hariri accused Aoun of preventing the formation of a government that did not reflect his interests and demands. “We’ve been giving them for seven months [prime minister]- Determine an impossible task: either the government is formed as the President’s political team wants it to be, and it embodies the will of His Excellency, even if he claims to have no demands, or there is no government, ”wrote Hariri Twitter.
The Sunni leader of Lebanon also told the Lebanese parliament: “I will not form a government like His Excellency’s team that the President wants, nor any other political group. I will only form the kind of government that is needed to prevent the collapse and stop the great crash that threatens the Lebanese people. “
This is not the first time Hariri has gone public to discuss the political deadlock. Two months ago, he left a meeting with Aoun and told reporters waiting outside that Aoun wanted him to approve an agreed list of ministers.
Hariri then described the move as unconstitutional. The prime minister-designate – also the son of former prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri and former head of government – wants a technocratic government that also includes ministers who are not affiliated with any political group in Lebanon. He continues to accuse Aoun of wanting to control a third of the government seats, a situation that would allow the president to block decisions he may not like.
But Aoun seems to have understood – apparently due to time – that this kind of political pressure will not lead to an agreement on a new government in Lebanon. For example, on March 17, Aoun said: “If Prime Minister-designate Hariri is unable to form a government, he should give way to those who … My appeal to the Prime Minister-designate is firm and truthful. Choose one immediately of two possibilities, as silence is no longer an option after today, ”said Aoun in a televised address.
He then rejected Hariri’s allegations that he had blocked the consensus on the new cabinet. “There’s no point in working in all of these positions and finger-pointing when the country collapses and people become prisoners of despair and frustration,” he said. “There is no escape for her except anger. Everything subsides before people suffer who have reached a level they cannot stand. “
Aoun informed parliament in mid-May that Hariri could not form a government. That news came in a letter that Hariri himself didn’t like. Hariri told Parliament – during the same session that this letter was publicly read – that Aoun is implicitly telling lawmakers that “You named this Prime Minister, I don’t want him, go ahead and rid me of him.”
This situation appears to have embarrassed Aoun, whose allies were quick to reject Hariri’s allegations. Nabih Berri, parliamentary speaker and also a key ally of Hezbollah, called Hariri to quickly form the government and work with Aoun to help stabilize Lebanon.
Gebral Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, former top diplomat and leader of the Christian-Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) in Lebanon, said Aoun did not want to remove Hariri from his position.
This is not the first time Hariri has negotiated a new government with Hezbollah and its political allies during difficult times. In October 2019, he resigned from his position as Prime Minister after reaching a “dead end” amid the wave of protests against all political forces in Lebanon.
By then, Hariri attempted to form a new government and undertake major reforms to reduce public anger amid severe social and economic deterioration. However, no political agreement was reached.
The ongoing political crisis in Lebanon began last October when Hariri was named Prime Minister-designate to replace Prime Minister Hasssan Diab after Beirut’s port explosion. The port explosion resulted in the death of 200 people and injuries to 6,000. Around 300,000 people have lost their homes and the Lebanese government is unable to meet its financial obligations or rebuild damaged areas.
An estimated US $ 10 to 15 billion will be needed to rebuild. However, at a donor conference organized by French President Emmanuel Macron, only 253 million euros were raised in humanitarian aid. Most world leaders are reluctant to send money to Lebanon until a new government is in place. This has led to a huge economic crisis which, along with the Covid-19 pandemic, sparked poverty-related protests and a huge drop in the exchange rate.
France, an important mediator in Lebanon’s political crisis from the start, recently imposed sanctions on Lebanese officials who “are obstructing the way out of the crisis and we will do so in coordination with our international partners”.
Karim Makdisi, associate professor of political science at the American University in Beirut, told Al-Ahram Weekly: “We all hope for a breakthrough.” Still, he wasn’t overly optimistic about the expected outcome.
“While we all hope a breakthrough is imminent, I doubt France will gain the approval of other regional actors who are helping to block the political movement in Lebanon (on top of the despicable lack of decency and sheer criminal negligence of our politicians) than Part of a bizarre attempt to punish all Lebanese for the existence of Hezbollah (and Aoun), ”concluded Makdisi.
* A printed version of this article will appear in the May 27, 2021 issue of Al-Ahram Weekly