After months of negotiations, Aoun says Hariri unable to form cabinet

“It has become evident that the prime minister-designate is unable to form a government capable of salvation and meaningful contact with foreign financial institutions, international funds and donor countries,” President Aoun, a Maronite Christian, wrote in his letter.
Friday 21/05/2021
A file picture of Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun speaking during a news conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon. AFP
A file picture of Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun speaking during a news conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon. (AFP)

BEIRUT--Lebanon’s parliament will convene on Friday to discuss a letter written by the president saying Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri had shown he was incapable of forming a government that could pull the nation out of financial crisis.

The letter follows months of political negotiations in a country where allegiances tend to follow sectarian lines. It was addressed to parliament, which will convene on Friday to discuss it after it is read out.

The existing government has been acting in a caretaker capacity since resigning after a huge explosion in a portside warehouse tore through Beirut in August. The blast further complicated the task of rescuing an economy that has been in tailspin since late 2019.

“It has become evident that the prime minister-designate is unable to form a government capable of salvation and meaningful contact with foreign financial institutions, international funds and donor countries,” President Aoun, a Maronite Christian, wrote in his letter.

 Shifting sands 

Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who like his assassinated father has headed several previous governments, was asked to form another one in October, after a previous prime minister-designate failed to form a cabinet of technocrats after several weeks of trying.

Earlier in May, Lebanese political sources said they believe Saudi Arabia’s changed view on Hariri was behind former interior minister Nohad el-Machnouk’s call for the PM-designate to apologise for not being able to form a Lebanese government.

The sources revealed that Machnouk’s call for Hariri to relinquish his cabinet formation mandate was based on strong information that Riyadh has taken an unfavourable position towards Hariri.

According to Lebanese political sources, Machnouk believes that France and Russia were withdrawing their support for Hariri’s formation of a government of “specialists.”

Machnouk said in press statements at the time that “if Hariri does not apologise, we will suffer for a very long time from this matter, but if he apologises, the problem will be even greater, because his apology at this stage would constitute a great shock to a segment of Lebanese society, especially his father’s supporters.”

Hariri has long sought to present himself as an alternative capable of playing this role. In strong statements he made in the past few months,  he depicted himself as being in the opposite camp of Hezbollah.

Western and other donors, led by former colonial power France, have said Lebanon needs to form a viable cabinet of technocrats or specialists before they will release funds to support the crippled country. Talks with the International Monetary Fund have stumbled.

 Tensions with Gulf 

Arab Gulf states, who in the past could be relied up to provide financial support to Lebanon, are now reluctant to step in because of frustrations over the rising influence of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia group backed by their regional rival Iran.

Tensions with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations were stoked this week by disparaging comments about them made by the foreign minister during a television interview.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain summoned Lebanon’s envoys to their countries over the remarks. Riyadh handed a memorandum of what were described as Wehbe’s “offences” and the UAE foreign ministry called his comments “derogatory and racist.”

Kuwait denounced Wehbe’s remarks as “gravely abusive,” while Bahrain called them “offensive”, both adding that the comments contradict the fraternal relations that ties the GCC states with Lebanon.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council asked Wehbe to make a formal apology to Gulf states.

The minister quit his caretaker post shortly afterwards.