Beirut, Lebanon, Aug 31 – French President Emmanuel Macron called Monday for the swift formation of a crisis government in Lebanon following the designation of a new prime minister.
Speaking upon his arrival at Beirut airport, Macron said a new line-up should be agreed upon “as soon as possible” to rescue the country, which is reeling from the deadly August 4 port explosion and the effects of an economic collapse.
It is Macron’s second such visit to hammer home the need for an overhaul of Lebanon’s complex sectarian political system, since the monster blast that killed 188, injured thousands and laid waste to large parts of Beirut.
He landed at the airport just hours after under-fire leaders on Monday designated a new prime minister, diplomat Mustapha Adib, to tackle the country’s deep political and economic crisis.
Immediately after his nomination, Adib, 48, gave a televised speech acknowledging the “need to form a government in record time and to begin implementing reforms immediately”.
He vowed to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund for assistance as Lebanon faces its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war and has been left traumatised by the August 4 explosion.
“I want your trust,” an AFP correspondent heard Adib tell a resident of the Gemmayzeh neighbourhood, badly hit by the port blast.
Macron, who toured the same area on August 6, arrived in Lebanon Monday to check on progress as he returned for Lebanon’s centenary, expected to be a glum commemoration.
– Legion of Honour –
French mandate authorities on September 1, 1920, proclaimed the creation of Greater Lebanon.
On the eve of the centenary, many citizens were planning to leave the country and asked whether Lebanon would live to be 101.
The French president kicked off his two-day trip by calling on 85-year-old Fairuz, the Arab world’s last living singing legend and a rare symbol of national unity in the crisis-hit country.
During what he told Lebanese television was a “very moving” moment, he awarded the singer with France’s Legion of Honour and she gave him a painting, the National News Agency said.
He then met former prime minister Saad Hariri at the Ottoman-era residence of the French ambassador, from whose porch 100 years ago Greater Lebanon was proclaimed.
President Michel Aoun and his political ally, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, on Sunday both expressed willingness to change the way Lebanon is governed.
The 85-year-old Aoun, a hate figure to Lebanon’s large protest camp which regards him as deaf to calls for change, even urged the proclamation of a secular state.
Under Lebanon’s political system, the premier must be a Sunni, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian and the post of parliamentary speaker goes to a Shiite.
Suspicion was rife that Lebanon’s long-serving political heavyweights were only paying lip service to reform ahead of Macron’s visit.
“When the political class talks about the introduction of the civil state, it reminds me of the devil talking about virtue, it doesn’t make sense,” said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut.
Adib’s designation “will not usher in a new period in Lebanese history and I don’t think it will put Lebanon on the road of genuine political development,” he said.
– ‘Man of the system’ –
Adib emerged as a consensus option Sunday and was named premier the next day in a presidency statement.
The close aide to former prime minister Najib Mikati received backing from the country’s top political parties.
Lebanon’s last government, headed by Hassan Diab, resigned after the massive explosion, which revived calls at home and abroad for a radical revamp of the state.
Caused by a vast stockpile of ammonium nitrate that had languished at Beirut’s port for years, the blast was widely blamed on government incompetence and greed.
The blast caused up to $4.6 billion worth of physical damage and a blow to economic activity of up to $3.5 billion, according to a World Bank assessment.
The IMF Monday voiced “hope that a new government will be formed shortly with a mandate to implement the policies and reforms that Lebanon needs to address the current crisis.”
Those who have taken to the streets in mass protests since last October against the entire political class had already rejected any name that might emerge on Monday.
Despite promises of change, the process for forming a new government follows the same blueprint that has chronically mired Lebanon in political deadlock.
Social media users questioned whether a government set up by Adib would be any more effective than Diab’s, formed in January but unable to lift the country out of crisis.
Analyst Nadim Houry said Adib was “part of the professional advisors class that orbit around Lebanon’s oligarchs.”
“He is a man of the system,” he said.