BEIRUT: A senior United Nations official Thursday appealed to Lebanon’s political leaders to agree on the quick formation of an “effective government” in order to pull the crises-ridden country out of the abyss.
The appeal, made by United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis, was the latest by foreign 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 collapse 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.
Kubis’ appeal also coincided with the flare-up of four days of street clashes in the northern city of Tripoli between security forces and residents protesting the deteriorating economic conditions and coronavirus lockdown measures. The clashes appeared to cast gloom over the already-stalled Cabinet formation process.
Kubis, who is leaving Lebanon soon to take up a new UN assignment in war-ravaged Libya, cited the Tripoli clashes as a message to rival Lebanese factions to act on the formation of a new government.
“...to the political elites –form an effective government without further delay. People cannot tolerate anymore this free-fall to abyss,” Kubis wrote on his Twitter account.
“Increased level of violence, notably during protests in Tripoli, with a number of injured, some gravely both among protesters and security forces is yet another message...,” he added.
Kubis’ plea comes as Lebanon has been left for nearly six months without a fully functioning government since then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s Cabinet resigned on Aug. 10 in the aftermath of the massive Beirut Port explosion, although it has been serving in a caretaker capacity.
Attempts by mediators, including Diab, Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai and General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, have so far failed to make any headway in the Cabinet impasse. No progress has been made in attempts to set up an ice-breaking meeting between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who remain poles apart on the shape and makeup of a new government to enact reforms outlined in a French initiative designed to steer Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crisis since the 1975-90 Civil War.
Aoun and Hariri have not met for more than a month since differences emerged between the two over a draft Cabinet lineup made up of 18 nonpartisan specialists to deliver reforms the premier-designate presented to the president on Dec. 9.
Kubis’ plea also came a day after Lebanon’s top Christian and Muslim religious leaders called for “immediate action to form a government with a ‘national mission’ rising above personal and individual calculations that sidestep details of quotas.”
Amid the Cabinet deadlock, political adversaries used the Tripoli violence, which resulted in one dead and over 220 injured, to accuse each other of responsibility for triggering the clashes in Lebanon’s second-largest city with the aim of exerting pressure on each other in the government formation process.
Commenting on the Tripoli violence, MP Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement who has been accused by Hariri and Future Movement officials of obstructing the government formation with his tough conditions, said in a statement, addressing his opponents: “Inciting the street [in Tripoli], whose affiliation and funding are known, and the clear fingers of some former and current officials of some [security] agencies, will not protect your political and financial system and will not divert our eyes from its corruption.”
A Future Movement source dismissed as “bankrupt” the FPM accusations that the movement was behind the Tripoli clashes.
In his first comment on the Tripoli violence, Hariri tweeted Wednesday: “It might be that there are groups behind the Tripoli protests that want to send political messages. There might be those who exploit the pain of the people and the economic crisis from which the poor and low-income people are suffering. But definitely there is no justification for attacks on private property, markets and official institutions on the pretext of protesting the lockdown decision.”
Future Movement MP Mohammad Hajjar said in a TV interview: “There are those who worked to incite the [Tripoli] protests to compel Hariri to take certain stances of a group that politically belongs to the Future Movement. This amounts to playing with fire.”
Former Future MP Mustafa Alloush also rejected the FPM accusations that the Future Movement was behind the Tripoli clashes.
“Politicians have lost control of the street [in Tripoli]. Neither the Future Movement, nor others can do so. There is no interest for the Future Movement [in inciting the clashes] because President Michel Aoun doesn’t hear and he unfortunately considers this city as belonging to another country,” Alloush said in a TV interview Thursday.
He ruled out the possibility of Hariri stepping down more than three months after he was designated to form a new government. “The only thing that accelerates the government formation is guaranteeing the future of the crown prince,” said Alloush, deputy head of the Future Movement, clearly referring to Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea Thursday renewed his call for early parliamentary elections to get rid of the ruling parliamentary majority which is currently controlled by the FPM, Hezbollah and their allies.
“Three months and a half have passed since Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s designation to form a government, and there is no glimmer of hope on the horizon for the formation of any government because as long as the current parliamentary majority, which comprises Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, is ruling and is in control, there is no hope for anything,” Geagea said in statement.
Geagea, a harsh critic of Aoun’s presidency, said while the ruling majority had initially facilitated Hariri’s designation, it later obstructed the government formation.
“With this ruling majority, we will be going from bad to worst. There is no solution except by getting rid of this majority and the only way to get rid of this majority is by early parliamentary elections,” he added.
Geagea, a long-standing presidential aspirant, is hoping to increase the number of the LF’s Strong Republic bloc’s 15 MPs in early parliamentary elections with the aim of boosting his chances in the presidential vote due in 2022.
The Cabinet deadlock comes amid indications that French President Emmanuel Macron, apparently encouraged by potential US support, plans to send a special envoy, Patrick Durel, to Lebanon in a bid to revive the stalled French initiative and speed up the formation of a new government to implement reforms, an official source told The Daily Star Wednesday.
Hopes for reviving the French initiative soared following a statement issued by the Elysee Palace Sunday night saying that the situation in Lebanon was among topics discussed during Macron’s first phone conversation with US President Joe Biden.
Macron, whose country has emerged as the main power broker in Lebanon since the deadly Aug. 4 explosion that destroyed Beirut Port, damaged half of the capital and killed nearly 200 people, has been spearheading international efforts to save Lebanon, a former French protectorate, from its deepest crisis in its modern history.
He presented the French initiative to Lebanon’s political leaders during his second visit to Beirut on Sept. 1. Macron was the first foreign leader to visit Beirut two days after the port blast. But the initiative has remained deadlocked after rival Lebanese factions failed to agree on the swift formation of a “mission government” to implement a slew of economic and administrative reforms stipulated in the initiative.