Jumblatt suggests Diab’s removal after remarks about French FM

Lebanese PM criticised Le Drian for linking assistance to Lebanon with enacting of reforms and IMF deal.
Wednesday 29/07/2020
A file picture of Lebanese President Michel Aoun receiving Lebanese Druze politician Walid Jumblatt at the presidential palace in Baabda.  (AFP)
A file picture of Lebanese President Michel Aoun receiving Lebanese Druze politician Walid Jumblatt at the presidential palace in Baabda. (AFP)

BEIRUT – Lebanon needs a new prime minister to help it exit a deep economic and financial crisis, one of the country’s leading politicians said in an interview published on Wednesday.

Veteran Druze power broker Walid Jumblatt said replacing Hassan Diab “should seriously be considered because he has amnesia,” according to comments to local daily L’Orient-Le Jour that were confirmed by his office.

The newspaper said Jumblatt was referring to remarks by Diab on Tuesday in which he appeared to criticise French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian for linking assistance to Lebanon with enacting of reforms and an IMF deal.

Le Drian visited Beirut last week.

“It is high time the sponsors of the government realise the gravity of the situation their protégé (Diab) has put us in,” Jumblatt said.

Lebanon desperately needs aid as it wrestles with a financial meltdown rooted in decades of state corruption and waste, in its worst crisis since a 1975-90 civil war.

It entered negotiations with the International Monetary Fund in May after defaulting on its foreign currency debt.

Jumblatt’s party is not represented in Diab’s cabinet, formed in January with backing from the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah and its allies.

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, right, speaks with Sheikh Naim Hassan, the spiritual leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, in  September 2015. AP
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, right, speaks with Sheikh Naim Hassan, the spiritual leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, in  September 2015.  (AP)

But the Druze, adherents to a small offshoot of Islam, are an important minority in Lebanon’s sectarian system of government and Jumblatt has frequently played the role of kingmaker.

The state news agency quoted Diab as telling a cabinet meeting that France’s Le Drian’s warning and “lack of information” about government reforms indicated an “international decision not to assist Lebanon.”

Diab has deleted a tweet stating the same.

The IMF talks have stalled in the absence of reforms and amid differences between the government and banks over the scale of Lebanon’s financial losses.

The finance ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that the IMF dialogue was “ongoing and constructive”, and the government remained commitment to constructive engagement over its debt restructuring.

On Tuesday, the leader of the Lebanese Forces Party, a major Christian group in Lebanon, blamed Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its local allies led by President Michel Aoun for the rapidly deteriorating economy and worsening relations with neighbouring Arab countries, saying the only solution is for them to leave power.

Samir Geagea, whose party has taken part in successive governments for the past decade and has 15 legislators in the 128-member parliament, said Lebanon received much assistance from Arab and Western countries in the past but all was wasted.

Only a new, independent government would be able to win back the international community’s confidence, he said.

The state’s strategic decisions are in Hezbollah’s hands, leading to deteriorating Lebanon’s relations with Arab states, he also said.

Geagea added that once Hezbollah withdraws its fighters from Yemen, Syria and Iraq, and stops implementing Iran’s policy, Arab states will most likely review relations with Lebanon.

Recent statements by Jumblatt and Geagea echo a similar call for Lebanese neutrality by Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai.

Earlier in July, the Maronite patriarch elaborated at length to Aoun on the current regional and international conditions that are having a negative impact on Lebanon for several reasons.

He explained that among the reasons hindering Lebanon from obtaining any Arab and international aid is the current political situation in Lebanon, which happens to be dominated by Hezbollah.

In this regard, the patriarch indicated that due to Hezbollah’s actions and policies, Lebanon has become an integral part of the Iranian camp, and this does not work in its favour.