Hariri leaks intent to drop cabinet bid on eve of Le Drian visit

The prime minister designate’s “apology” could be accompanied by his resignation and that of his parliamentary bloc from the House of Representatives.

Thursday 06/05/2021
Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri speaks after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, March 18, 2021. (AP)
Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri speaks after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, March 18, 2021. (AP)

BEIRUT - Lebanese political sources revealed that it is possible Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri could consider “apologising” for not being able to form a new cabinet.

They explain that Hariri’s possible decision to apologise is linked to the obstacles that President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil have thrown in the way of his forming a government of “specialists” based on the French initiative.

The Lebanese political sources said that Hariri will not simply apologise for not being able to form a new government; his apology could be accompanied by his resignation and that of his parliamentary bloc from the House of Representatives.

This could mean forcing new parliamentary elections or disrupting the work of the House of Representatives, which also elects the president of the republic.

The sources said that Hariri deliberately put forward the idea of abandoning his cabinet formation mandate to coincide with the visit of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to Beirut, which started Thursday. Such a move would  take the government crisis back to square one and embroil the French initiative in new complications, against the background of what appears to be a cooling of relations between Paris and the Lebanese prime minister-designate.

Analysts have noted that Le Drian’s agenda in Beirut does not include a meeting with Hariri, while it does include meetings with President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

This, they add, was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the prime minister-designate, as the step showed the emergence of a deep gap between him and the French who seemingly no longer have full confidence in him.

The Arab Weekly had indicated a few weeks ago, based on its own sources, that this cooling of relations was mainly because France had become convinced that all the political parties in Lebanon, including Hariri, are responsible for obstructing the formation of the government. The prime minister-designate had previously worked based on the assumption that he had a mandate to carry out the French initiative and that he had the full support of Paris in his mission.

The sources indicated that French political circles began talking about restricting entry to France of certain Lebanese figures, including Saad Hariri himself or those around him. The French would work to “pressure everyone” in Lebanon to form a government as soon as possible, so that President Emmanuel Macron could appear able to carry off his Lebanese initiative.

The vice-president of the Future Movement, Mustafa Alloush, said that the issue of Hariri’s apology was “under consideration,” but that this would not be announced “today or tomorrow.”

He added, “If Prime Minister Hariri’s apology facilitates the formation of a government, then he has no objection to that.”

Alloush insisted that pressures on Hariri were from Lebanese President Michel Aoun and the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil.

He wondered, “In the end, how long will he wait? Since all the pressures on Bassil and Aoun over the course of six months did not yield any results, then the question is how long shall he wait?”

Deputy-speaker of parliament, Elie Ferzli, said, “It is crime not to lift a finger while the country drifts to the black fate where some want to draw it.”

He expressed his fear of a return to “the 1989 scenario,” which would mean “recycling” the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, MP Gebran Bassil.

He added that the option of the resignation of the House of Representatives itself is not on the table. Parliament speaker Nabih Berri is pushing with all his power and authority for the formation of a government, but he has met with rejection.

After months of hinting at its possible imposition of sanctions, France started talking last week of its intent to impose restrictions on the entry to France of Lebanese figures that it considers responsible for the political stalemate.

In late March, France warned senior political officials in Lebanon that it was exploring ways to exert national and European pressure on those who hinder a settlement that would make it possible to overcome the political and economic crisis in the country.

Last month, Le Drian issued a series of fiery statements in which he said that “France will take measures against those who obstruct a solution to the crisis in Lebanon; and the coming days will be fateful.”

He considered that the bind is not a result of a natural disaster but rather caused by well-known political officials, pointing out that Lebanese political forces are being deliberately stubborn and do not seek a way out of the mess and some of them are putting impossible conditions on the process.

In talks with his European counterparts, Le Drian also considered “identifying the tools in the European Union’s arsenal to reinforce pressure on those responsible for obstruction,” hence threatening to expand the sanctions to include broader European measures. This is in light of confirmed reports that Europeans are running out of patience with all Lebanese blocs and figures and not only Hezbollah, which is already subject to international sanctions. The European Union is apparently examining names and types of sanctions, which may include travel bans to Europe.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun tasked Saad Hariri with forming a new government last October, after receiving the support of the majority of MPs.

But the two parties have not agreed on a government that would work to save the country from economic collapse.

Over the past few months, Hariri and Aoun have traded accusations of obstructionism and trying to impose counter-conditions.