BEIRUT: French President Emmanuel Macron has delayed sending his special envoy to Lebanon in a move apparently reflecting his frustration with the top leaders’ failure to resolve their differences over the formation of a new government, an official source said Tuesday.
Encouraged by US support, Macron had planned to dispatch his adviser for Middle East and North Africa affairs Patrick Durel to Lebanon in a bid to revive the stalled French initiative to rescue the crises-ridden country and accelerate the formation of a new government to deliver urgent reforms.
The postponement of Durel’s visit coincided with renewed political escalation between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri over the delay in the formation of a new government that shattered hopes for an early solution to the Cabinet crisis, now in its sixth month.
Durel was originally expected to visit Beirut last weekend for talks with rival Lebanese political leaders on the hurdles hindering the formation of a new government and also to prepare for Macron’s trip to Lebanon.
“Patrick Durel’s visit to Beirut has been postponed,” the official source familiar with the Cabinet formation process told The Daily Star. Although the source did not give the reason for the postponement, it was clearly linked to the mounting tensions between Aoun and Hariri, who have locked horns over responsibility for blocking the formation of a new government.
The source said he was not aware of any contacts made by French officials with Aoun and Hariri in the past two days to defuse the tensions and the war of words between the two leaders over the obstruction of the creation of a proposed 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to be tasked with carrying out a reform program contained in the French initiative designed to lift Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crunch since the 1975-90 Civil War.
Macron, whose country has emerged as the main power broker in Lebanon since the massive Aug. 4 explosion that devastated Beirut Port and left half of the capital in ruins, last month announced he planned to make a third visit to Lebanon, saying that France's road map for resolving the deepening Lebanese crisis was still on the table. Media reports said Macron planned to also visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ahead of his trip to Lebanon to rally support for the French initiative.
A political source had told The Daily Star that Macron’s visit to Lebanon would not take place before Lebanese leaders agreed on the formation of a new government to implement reforms outlined in the French initiative.
In a tough speech Sunday, Hariri bluntly accused Aoun of blocking the government formation with his demand for veto power. He also denied accusations by Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement headed by his son-in-law, MP Gebran Bassil, that the Cabinet lineup which the premier-desgnate presented to Aoun on Dec. 9 was intended to infringe on the president’s constitutional powers and on the rights of Christians.
Hariri said Aoun had rejected his proposed Cabinet lineup of 18 nonpartisan specialists to implement essential reforms because he wanted a share of six ministers, plus an Armenian Tashnag minister, or seven ministers, meaning a blocking third, or veto power. Hariri has vowed not to grant veto power to any party in the new government.
Hariri’s speech drew a fiery response from the presidency’s media office, which issued a statement accusing the premier-designate of seeking to impose new norms in the Cabinet formation process that ran contrary to the rules, the Constitution and the National Pact requirements on power-sharing.
A source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star Monday that after Aoun had rejected Hariri’s proposed Cabinet lineup, the premier-designate was “required to come up with a new [Cabinet] formula that takes into account the presidential observations, the unity of criteria and the [National] Pact requirements and it must not contain new norms.”
In the latest exchange of harsh rhetoric between the two sides, the Future Movement’s politburo Tuesday slammed reactions to Hariri’s speech by the presidency’s media office, Aoun’s political adviser former Minister Salim Jraissati and some FPM MPs, saying they were filled with “worthless sectarian instincts.”
In a statement issued after a virtual meeting, the Future politburo praised Hariri’s speech, which it said addressed “the public frankly and exposed the party that is obstructing the formation of a government of nonpartisan specialists in line with the criteria of the French initiative and the provisions of the Constitution to halt the [economic] collapse, implement reforms and rebuild the devastation of the port explosion.”
Hariri’s speech also stressed the need to restore the confidence of the Arabs and the world through this government, the statement said.
The politburo condemned the reactions to the speech that were “devoid of any political contents and were filled with worthless sectarian instincts that did not warrant a response in the face of the speech that contained political facts and realities that have exposed the obstructers and put an end to media misinformation.”
Hariri’s media adviser Hussein Wajeh said Tuesday the premier-designate called on Future MPs and supporters “not to be dragged into polemics in response to the [FPM] campaigns targeting the Future Movement.”
“There is a political team that wants to provoke the Future [Movement] and a large segment of the Lebanese by resorting to sectarian mobilization to achieve its private goals. It will not be useful to do the same actions and political discourse of this team and play off the Lebanese against each other,” Wajeh tweeted in a clear reference to the FPM.
“They [FPM] are craving for a Muslim-Christian clash but they will not get this opportunity no matter how intense are the incitement campaigns and stirring hatred among the sons of the one nation,” he added.