Lebanese politicians resent PM’s blunders but offer no alternative

On Wednesday, Hariri lashed out at Diab for criticising the French foreign minister’s visit to Beirut.
Thursday 30/07/2020
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab receives French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the governmental palace in Beirut, July 23. (DPA)

BEIRUT – Communication blunders and diplomatic gaffes of Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab have recently multiplied, embarrassing even his closest allies who have become increasingly unable to cover up for him.

The storm of criticism sparked by his stances is leading many to suggest his exit. However, the problem remains one of finding an alternative to Diab.

In recent months, there had been attempts to encourage the leader of the Future Movement Saad Hariri to take responsibility and form a new government, but Hariri drew up a set of conditions that were later rejected by the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, which dominates the Lebanese political scene.

The most recent gaffe of Diab came on Tuesday when he made remarks in which he appeared to criticise French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian for linking assistance to Lebanon with enacting reforms and an IMF deal.

Le Drian visited Beirut last week.

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.

On Wednesday, Hariri lashed out at Diab for criticising the French foreign minister’s visit to Beirut and warned that the prime minister’s diplomacy would ruin Lebanon’s relations with a “friendly” state.

“I don’t understand where Prime Minister Hassan Diab is taking us with this diplomacy. How can a premier make a statement against a friendly country?” Hariri said.

“We regret these statements,” he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, veteran Druze power broker Walid Jumblatt said replacing 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.

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.

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.

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

The head of the Arab Unification Party Wiam Wahhab, who is known for harbouring close ties with Hezbollah, had also previously called on Diab to leave after the Lebanese premier made statements in which he questioned the role of the security services and the state.

“I spoke with him [Diab] once and I did not feel that he was a coherent person,” Wahhab said in an interview with Voice of Beirut International.

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.

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 committed to constructive engagement over its debt restructuring.

The criticism of Diab’s performance as prime minister has been recently accompanied by a strong disapproval of Hezbollah’s policies and those of the group’s political allies.

On Tuesday, the leader of the Lebanese Forces Party, a major Christian group in Lebanon, blamed Hezbollah 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.