BEIRUT: Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani Thursday called for the swift formation of a new government to deal with a host of crises and challenges threatening Lebanon’s stability for the first time since the 1975-90 Civil War.
Speaking during a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri held at the emir’s Diwan in Doha, the Qatari emir also reaffirmed his country’s support for Lebanon and its people, according to statement released by Hariri’s media office quoting the Qatar News Agency.
The meeting dealt with the latest developments in Lebanon and Hariri briefed the Qatari leader on efforts related to forming the government, the statement said. It added that the meeting also covered “a number of issues of mutual interest.”
“The Qatari emir emphasized Qatar's support of Lebanon and its people, calling on all Lebanese parties to prioritize national interest and swiftly form a new government that will deal with the crises and challenges facing Lebanon,” the statement said.
The Qatari leader’s plea was the latest by United Nations, US, French, Arab and Lebanese officials for the rapid formation of a new government eagerly awaited by the Lebanese to rescue them from multiple crises, including an unprecedented economic meltdown that has sent the Lebanese pound crashing and losing more than 80 percent its value since 2019, and subsequently put half of Lebanon’s 6 million population below the poverty line.
Lebanon’s crisis has been exacerbated by an alarming surge in coronavirus infections and a high mortality rate and the grave consequences of the massive Aug. 4 explosion that devastated Beirut Port, damaged half of the capital, killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands, left 300,000 people homeless and caused billions of dollars in material damage.
The meeting with Sheikh Tamim came a day after Hariri held talks with Qatar’s deputy premier and Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani dealing with the general conditions in Lebanon and the region, and bilateral relations between the two countries.
Hariri was also believed to have briefed the Qatari minister on the major obstacles he has been facing in his attempts since his designation on Oct. 22 to form a proposed 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to deliver reforms contained in the French initiative designed to salvage Lebanon from its worst economic and financial crisis since the Civil War.
During a visit to Beirut last week, the Qatari minister told Lebanese leaders they needed to form a new government before they could get aid to pull the country from its crippling economic crunch.
Hariri’s visit to Qatar is part of a tour that has already taken him to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France aimed at restoring Lebanon’s ties with Arab and friendly countries. Hariri left Doha Thursday for the UAE. Media reports said the premier-designate planned to visit Britain and Germany.
Hariri’s shuttle diplomacy coincided with attempts to revive the stalled French initiative to save Lebanon and speed up the formation of a new government to carry out a slew of economic and administrative reforms desperately needed to unlock billions of dollars in promised international aid to the cash-strapped country that is teetering on the verge of a total economic collapse.
Lebanon has been left for more than six months without a fully functioning government since Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s Cabinet resigned on Aug. 10 in the aftermath of the port blast, although it has been serving in a caretaker capacity.
Nearly four months after his designation to form a new Cabinet, Hariri and President Michel Aoun remain at odds over the shape and size of the government and the distribution of key portfolios, namely the Interior and Justice ministries.
In a tough speech Sunday, Hariri bluntly accused Aoun of blocking the government formation with his demand for veto power, something he has vowed not to grant to any party in the new Cabinet. He appeared adamant on the draft Cabinet lineup of 18 nonpartisan specialists he had presented to Aoun on Dec. 9, which was rejected by the president on the pretext that it did not take into account unified criteria in the distribution of portfolios or in the naming of Christian ministers.
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.
He has also rejected Aoun’s reported call for a 20-member Cabinet to add two ministerial seats, one for the Druze sect and the other for the Melkite Greek Catholic sect.
Future Movement MP Mohammad Hajjar Wednesday accused Aoun of backing down on an agreement with Hariri on the formation of an 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan experts in a bid to secure veto power.
The Cabinet formation deadlock figured high during a meeting between Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt Wednesday night. Joumblatt, a harsh critic of Aoun’s presidency, did not speak to reporters after the meeting held at Berri’s Ain al-Tineh residence.
As part of an initiative to break the Cabinet deadlock, Berri earlier this month called for the formation of a Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists without granting veto power to any party. He said a demand for veto power had blocked the formation of a new government in what appeared to be an indirect jab at Aoun and his son-in-law, MP Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, who were reported to have made such a demand.
Joumblatt has praised in a TV interview Hariri’s proposed Cabinet lineup which denied veto power to any party and called for a new political ruling system.
MP Wael Abu Faour from the PSP’s parliamentary bloc warned that the country was headed toward a dead end due to Aoun’s insistence on acquiring veto power in the next government.
“We are heading toward a dead end in light of insistence by Aoun and his movement [FPM] on a blocking third [veto power]. We call on everyone to reject this demand in order to avoid a repetition of the sin represented by Aoun’s election as president,” Abu Faour said during a meeting with the PSP’s cultural branch in the Chouf.
He said with a veto power demand, Aoun was seeking to “refloat his son-in-law Gebran Bassil by finding him a weighty position at the [Cabinet] table and giving him the capability to influence in the future the political game, the presidency and government.”
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, also an outspoken critic of Aoun, Thursday reiterated his call for holding early parliamentary elections to get rid of the ruling parliamentary majority which is currently controlled by the FPM, Hezbollah and their allies. He also renewed his call for Aoun to step down.
“After the country has reached the current situation, the president must resign. But the problem is that in the event he resigned under the current ruling parliamentary majority, a president like him will be elected. Therefore, we must go to early parliamentary elections in order for this resignation to be useful and to lead to something,” Geagea said in an interview with the Free Lebanon radio station. He said early parliamentary polls would lead to a new parliamentary majority which could then elect a new president.
Geagea, a long-standing presidential aspirant, is hoping that early parliamentary elections would increase the LF’s 15-member bloc in Parliament, and subsequently boost his presidential chances.