Saad Hariri abandoned his attempts to form a government on Thursday, after a nine-month political crisis in Lebanon between him and President Michel Aoun.
Attempts to reach an agreement seemed a recipe for disaster from day one. According to a report by the British website middleeasteye
Hariri, a scion of a political dynasty, and prime minister from 2009 to 2011 and 2016 to 2020, insisted on reducing his proposed government line-up and its technocrats, a system that could implement the reforms needed to unlock billions in international economic aid.
However, Aoun, a former military general and a key Hezbollah ally, said Hariri’s lineup is not in line with the country’s sensitive sectarian power-sharing system, and ignores his concerns about Christian proportional representation and his Free Patriotic Movement.
Not even diplomatic pressure and the threat of French and European sanctions can break the impasse, even though Lebanon has been without a government since Hassan Diab’s resignation following the Beirut port explosion last August.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s economic crisis continues to escalate.
Lebanon’s rulers are now returning to the drawing board for the second time in nearly a year, to find a new prime minister.
Under the sectarian power-sharing system, the prime minister must be a Sunni. However, no candidate from that sect has any place close to Hariri’s influence or prestige, and so far no name has been seriously proposed.
Aoun’s office said the president would set a date for new parliamentary consultations “as soon as possible,” although no date has been set.
After a new prime minister is appointed, he will present a proposed cabinet lineup to the president, ideally leading to discussions, some compromise, and – sooner or later – the formation of a government.
But this point in the process regularly leads to political discord and paralysis, as leaders bicker over the sectarian and political distribution of ministries.
The type of ministerial portfolio is also important: some, such as finance and defense, are seen as more valuable than others, such as culture or youth and sports.
What is different this time?
The country’s political leadership is now much more divided than it was when Hariri resigned as prime minister during anti-government protests in October 2019. The situation in the country has gradually deteriorated since then.
The economy is in much worse shape than it was when Hariri was appointed prime minister nine months ago. It is now on the verge of complete collapse.
More than half of the population lives in poverty, and suffers from massive unemployment and food price inflation, exacerbated by the lack of fuel and medicine.
Less than 24 hours after Hariri’s withdrawal, the Lebanese pound hit an all-time low against the dollar, as one dollar bought 1,500 Lebanese pounds.
Meanwhile, Hariri said in an interview hours after his resignation that he would not name any candidates and would not give the new government his vote of confidence, leaving a huge hole in Lebanon’s power-sharing system.
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Hariri’s Future Movement holds the largest share of the country’s Sunni deputies, and is the mufti’s favorite Sunni leader. Another Sunni candidate without the blessing of the mufti or a large segment of the Sunni community could continue to fuel sectarian tensions in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the United States has issued sanctions against some Lebanese leaders, including Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, and France and the European Union may do the same to officials obstructing the formation of the government.
International donors say they will release hundreds of millions of dollars in life-saving loans and economic and development aid only when Lebanon forms a reform government, concludes an economic rescue deal with the International Monetary Fund, and implements structural and economic reforms to end waste. and corruption. So far, none of that has worked.
Finally, the new prime minister will have to confront the wrath of a population whose lives have been turned upside down, who are anxiously awaiting accountability for decades of endemic corruption – and the criminal neglect that caused the devastated Beirut port to explode.
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