Lebanon’s prime minister designate, Mustapha Adib, has stood down after failing to form a government in a month of negotiations, in a further blow to a country reeling under the weight of multiple crises.
The talks were brought down by the issue of who would nominate key cabinet ministers, particularly the finance minister. The government is made up of feuding political blocs, and the powerful Shia groups Hezbollah and Amal insisted on controlling the finance ministry, despite demands for a technocratic government that could
chart a course out of economic ruin.
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, had made French aid conditional on reforms that would reduce the role of the
political blocs which have led Lebanon to the edge of a precipice after three decades of corruption and mismanagement.
But efforts to create a government were overshadowed by global conflicts. Lebanon found itself squeezed between Washington, which wants to destroy Iran’s economy, and Tehran, which insisted on its Shia allies retaining the finance ministry.
Last month, the US Treasury slapped sanctions on a former finance minister from the political bloc of the parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri – which hardened the positions of Amal and Hezbollah.
Major reforms to Lebanon’s sclerotic institutions are a precondition to an international bailout to stave off financial collapse, but the row makes this less likely.
They have been run as fiefs since the end of the civil war, and the country’s ruling class is invested in the patronage networks they generate.
France said on Saturday it would not give up on Lebanon. However, the stalemate is a rebuff to Macron, who wants to reassert France’s role in the region. He hopes to set the terms of a recovery and is investing his political capital in imposing a new leadership.
Macron’s focus on making Lebanon a country that can shape its own fortunes partially ignores the regional dynamics. Sources close to the powerful militia-cum-political bloc, Hezbollah, said Iran was determined neither to give Macron a win in Lebanon nor to allow a government to be formed before the outcome of the US election on 3 November.
“Hezbollah and Amal are treating the situation in Lebanon like a sporting match in which they can keep playing in extra time until the tides turn in their favour,” said Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House. “With the US election looming and Israel widening its network of alliances in the region, the two allies of Iran in Lebanon are further digging in their heels on the basis that accepting political compromise now would compromise their power later,” she said.