French FM backs Hariri proposal for resolution of Lebanon crisis

The French foreign ministry welcomed the “courageous declaration” by Hariri. “This declaration represents an opening and all parties should understand its importance so that a government of mission can now be established,” it said.
Wednesday 23/09/2020
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (R) meets with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the Sharm El Sheikh convention centre, on 24 February 2019. (AFP)
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (R) meets with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the Sharm El Sheikh convention centre, on 24 February 2019. (AFP)

BEIRUT – France backed on Wednesday a proposal by Lebanon’s leading Sunni politician Saad Hariri to end a deadlock preventing the formation of a cabinet to lead the nation out of its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Paris has been pressing Lebanese politicians to form a government quickly but the process hit a logjam over a demand by Lebanon’s two main Shia parties that they name several ministers, including the finance minister.

Hariri proposed in a statement on Tuesday that Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a Sunni under Lebanon’s sectarian system of power sharing, name an “independent” Shia candidate to the finance portfolio.

It was not immediately clear whether the two main Shia groups, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement, would back the idea. Pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar was critical of the proposal.

A Shia picked by the Amal chief has run the finance ministry for years. Adib aimed to shake up ministerial posts.

“It has become clear that obstructing the formation of the government threatens to eliminate the opportunity to achieve the reforms demanded by all the Lebanese, a condition to open the way for President Macron’s call for an international conference to support Lebanon at the end of next month, and thus the entire French initiative,” Hariri said.

 “I decided to help President Adib find a way out by naming an independent finance minister from the Shia community, whom he chooses, like all other ministers on the basis of competence, integrity and lack of party affiliation,” he added.

 The French foreign ministry welcomed the “courageous declaration” by Hariri. “This declaration represents an opening and all parties should understand its importance so that a government of mission can now be established,” it said.

 President Michel Aoun, a Christian allied to Hezbollah, said on Monday Lebanon was going “to hell” if it could not form a government to tackle a crisis that has paralysed the banks, sent Lebanon’s pound into freefall and plunged many into poverty.

Lebanon’s problems were compounded by a devastating explosion on August 4 at Beirut port. Subsequent fires in and around the area and Tuesday’s blast in south Lebanon have further rattled the nation.

A file picture former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaking to the media in Leidschendam, Netherlands August 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
A file picture former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaking to the media in Leidschendam, Netherlands August 18, 2020. (REUTERS)

Hariri said his idea was to name “a finance minister from the Shia sect, who would be independent” but said this did not mean he accepted that the post should always be held by a Shia.

“It should be clear that this decision is one-time and does not constitute a norm upon which to build future governments, but rather is conditional on facilitating the formation of Adib’s government, according to the agreed criteria, and facilitating its reform work, in order to curb the collapse of Lebanon and then save it and save the Lebanese people,” he said.

France said on Tuesday Lebanon risked collapse if politicians did not form a cabinet quickly, after they missed a mid-September deadline agreed with Paris.

Hariri’s proposal constitutes a compromise solution to solve the government formation crisis in light of the hardening of the positions of the two main Shia groups, Hezbollah and Amal, and their insistence that the finance minister be Shia.

Observers believe that the ball is now in the court of the Shia political parties to show their goodwill, cautioning that if Hariri’s initiative is rejected, the Shia camp could find itself in direct confrontation not only with the international community, but local public opinion.

Following Beirut’s devastating explosion in August, Hariri said that he had made enough concessions and that it was time for others to compromise, referring to Hezbollah and the Shia group’s political allies.

On Tuesday, he once again referred to the concessions he had made in the past, saying, “Once again, I took a decision to (drink) poison, a decision that I took alone independently of the position of previous heads of government, knowing in advance that this decision might be described by some as political suicide, but I took it for the sake of the Lebanese people.”

Some experts believe that Hezbollah and Amal will find great difficulty in coming up with excuses to reject Hariri’s initiative, which constitutes the last chance to save Lebanon’s government formation efforts.