As Lebanon’s Prime Minister-in-waiting Mustafa Adib missed the September 15 deadline set by French President Emmanuel Macron for the formation of a new Lebanese cabinet, President Michael Aoun has warned of a “hell-like” situation that awaits Lebanon unless a government is formed very soon.
Easier Said Than Done
Although many Lebanese pundits had warned the former Lebanese ambassador to Germany (and strong loyal affiliate of the mainly Sunni former prime ministers Saad al Hariri and Fouad Sanyoura’s so-called March 14 Alliance), Adib must have realized by now that the task of forming an acceptable new cabinet in Lebanon is much easier said than done.
Since his nomination for the job some three weeks ago, pro-Hariri PM-designate Adib has been striving to navigate the precarious inter-factional and sectarian waterways of Lebanese political affiliations. It’s a mission made even more challenging by an array of conflicting interests as well as regional and international references, patrons and backers.
Despite growing local as well as regional and international pressure coupled with Macron’s “warnings” to Lebanese factional leaders prior to the original deadline he had set and later extended, Adib’s formation of an autocratic government away from the intervention and influence of Lebanon’s traditional political powerhouses and blind subordination has proven to be an extremely difficult and complicated matter.
The long-awaited white smoke does not appear to be coming soon, as many experts in Lebanese affairs have noted over the past week or so. Lebanon, however, has little choices but to settle smaller differences and minor internal disagreement if it wants to avert a fast slipping fully into the “hell” that Aoun referenced.
Who and What is Blocking Cabinet Formation?
Several factors contribute to the current blockage and various parties play into the main obstacles that are in the way of forming Lebanon’s new cabinet. This can be summed up as the difficulty of reaching an agreeable compromise between the country’s two major political blocks, known as the March 7 Movement (consists mainly of Shiite Hezbollah and Amal Movement, as well as Maronite Free National Movement led by President Aoun’s son in law and former Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil), and the March 14 Movement (mainly contains Hariri’s Sunni leaders as well as Geagea’s Christian Forces and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt).
Inside information notes that most of the obstacles have been ironed out, except for the post of Finance Minister. This is a crucial one given Lebanon’s economic and financial dire straits, as well the principle of “rotation of posts” within the government and relevant senior traditionally-allocated civil service positions.
Some fiery statements made mainly against the “Shiite duo” especially regarding Hezbollah’s arms and other controversial issue were later toned down and followed by French reassurances (particularly to Parliamentary Speaker and Amal leader Nabih Barri) that Shiites of Lebanon would not be targeted. However, how much credence do Macron’s reassurances have, and who believes the anti-resistance factions’ rhetoric or promises remains another issue.
Ongoing Efforts to Get the Government Formed
At a press conference earlier this week, Aoun suggested a non-sectarian based distribution of ” key portfolios even-handedly among Lebanese parties’. Meanwhile, Jumblatt’s mediation efforts during a phone call he made from Paris where he met with some French officials including former diplomat and Director of the General Directorate for External Security, Bernard Emie, with the Hariri Block, have failed to produce any tangible results.
The political dilemma for Adib has worsened as many Lebanese nationalist writers and politician have voiced their refusal of what they call “an unviable sectarian system, as well as a civil project that lacks any genuine popular cross-sectarian common sense or support.”
Indeed, “many political leaders continue to fall victim to intransigent sectarian affiliation,” an article published Monday in the Al-Binaa nationalist Lebanese newspaper maintained.
It is widely believed that Adib’s upcoming cabinet is no more than a transitional one until Lebanon’s surmounts its ongoing critical situation. The country is virtually bankrupt and on the verge of total economic collapse. Making necessary reform and fighting deeply-rooted corruption, both political as well as financial, have been compulsory preconditions for any badly-needed foreign financial aid or IMF package. Months of difficult negotiations between the International Monetary Fund and Lebanon have reached a dead end, mainly due the IMF’s reform conditions before any financial aid that might well be swallowed up by corruption and mismanagement of funds.
Reservations About the French Initiative
The majority of those Lebanese factions that oppose or expressed reservations over Macron’s plan regarding their country so far, have done so because they do not view the French president not as an independent Western leader marketing his own endeavors, but as a mere “messenger” on behalf of US President Donald Trump.
The majority of Lebanon’s population who have long suffered from US sanctions and interference in their countries affairs have no trust whatsoever in Trump and his foreign policy adventures and blunders. They maintain that the American interference makes it look like that “Hariri, not Adib, is the one who’s forming the new government” tailored as per Washington’s prerequisites.
Others in Lebanon attribute any potential failure of Macron’s initiative to the deeply-rooted corruption as well as backing the wrong horses in Lebanon. General Jamil Al Sayyed, MP and former senior security chief who was unlawfully jailed along with three other officers on false accusations and fabricated allegations regarding the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut 2005 tweeted earlier this week:
“The French initiative is a good recipe for cooking a salvation government. The problem lies in the fact that they handed the recipe to Lebanese chefs from March 14 (Movement) who had always partnered with others from March 8 (Movement). Both sides have been part of corruption in Lebanon and the plundering of its wealth. The March 14 chefs are today trying to appease America and launder their corruption by eliminating their other partners. Corrupted men are trying to judge the corrupted; it simply doesn’t add up!”
General Al Sayyed’s remarks, harsh as they might seem to some, reflect the feeling, attitude and approach taken by many cross Lebanon’s confused spectrum, who have had to pay dearly for decades of corruption and ineptitude of the country’s main political dynasties. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Lebanon over the past year or so protesting against practices by war lords turned politicians across the board, as well as corrupt policies that have virtually crippled their country and depleted its resources.
Does France Have a Plan B?
France, as well as many major Lebanese parties in fact, do want Hariri to return as Prime Minister; the man is seen by many key players as an acceptable compromise, despite having been undermined and humiliated by Saudi Crown Prince and virtual ruler Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who summoned Hariri to the Saudi capital Riyadh in 2017, arrested Lebanon’s incumbent PM and forced Hariri to announce his resignation from Saudi Arabia.
Following the failure to meet his September 15 deadline, Macron issued a statement expressing his “regrets” that Lebanon has been unable to form a new government after a deadly explosion in the port of the Lebanese capital Beirut caused a mass resignation from the Hassan Diab’s government. “It’s not too late” though, Macron’s statement read, in which he pleaded for Lebanese leaders and officials to help the prime minister-in-waiting Mustafa Adib “form a government that can tackle the gravity of the situation”.
A former French diplomat involved in the Lebanese file and promoting the March 14 Movement in the United States in 2005, has categorically ruled out an immediate withdrawal of Macron’s initiative, noting that Paris actually knows what, who and why have prevented its success so far.
A second modified French plan, void of direct American influence or pressure, might soon be presented to Lebanese leaders as the current one appears to have entered “clinical death,” the official added. Unless an agreement is reached soon, the deepening crisis threatens to turn Lebanon from the once acclaimed Switzerland of the East to a failed state with the feared potential of the hell of civil war once again breaking loose.