Lebanese politicians responded cautiously on Monday to French President Emmanuel Macron’s accusations of “collective betrayal” after they failed to form a reformist government despite their promises to quickly address the country’s multiple crises.
President Michel Aoun reaffirmed his support for Mr Macron’s efforts to help the country during a meeting with French ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher, noting France’s “concern for Lebanon and the Lebanese”, the state-run National News Agency reported.
President Aoun said he “regretted” prime minister-designate Mustafa Adib’s failure to form a cabinet. Nominated on August 31, nearly three weeks after the resignation of the former government in the wake of the deadly August 4 blast at Beirut port that killed nearly 200 people, Mr Adib stepped down on Saturday as political parties insisted on controlling key portfolios.
President Aoun is expected to reconvene parliament to discuss a new candidate for the premiership, but Lebanese media reported that binding consultations had not begun yet on Monday. President Macron on Sunday gave Lebanese leaders another “four to six weeks” to form a cabinet.
Parliament is scheduled to meet on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss 40 draft laws, including controversial and repeatedly postponed legislation to fight corruption and lift banking secrecy.
President Macron blasted the entire Lebanese political class in a press conference on Sunday, saying they had not respected their promise to form an independent government within 15 days of his second visit to Lebanon in less than a month on September 1.
The Beirut port explosion deepened Lebanon’s existing woes, which include hyperinflation, record-high unemployment, de facto capital controls in addition to a rapid devaluation of the currency by about 80 per cent.
“I take note that Lebanese political forces made the choice to preserve their partisan and individual interests at the expense of the country’s interest,” said Mr Macron, speaking from the Elysee Palace.
“I am ashamed for your leaders. I am ashamed,” he said in response to a Lebanese journalist’s question, and highlighted the risk of civil war if the political deadlock continued.
“Every day that passes makes finding an agreement more difficult. Every day that passes increases chances of a flare-up of violence,” he said.
President Macron accused Lebanon’s two Shiite parties, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its local ally Amal, of torpedoing the negotiations to form a government. Amal insisted on having a party loyalist at the head of the Finance Ministry, which it has controlled since 2014.
“Hezbollah cannot operate at the same time as an army against Israel, a militia unleashed against civilians in Syria and a respectable political party in Lebanon,” President Macron said.
“Today, the question is really in the hands of [Amal leader Nabih] Berri and Hezbollah: 'Do you want the worst-case scenario or do you want to engage the Shiite camp towards democracy, in the interest of Lebanon?'” asked President Macron.
There was no response from either party on Monday. Former finance minister and Amal member Ali Hassan Khalil, who was sanctioned by the US government for corruption and material support to Hezbollah on September 8, told local television network LBCI that he had “no comments on what was stated in the conference of the French president”.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is expected to respond to President Macron’s accusations in a speech on Tuesday evening. The US considers Hezbollah to be a terrorist organisation, but France makes a distinction between its military and political wing.
Lebanon’s Jaafarite Mufti Ahmad Kabalan, who is traditionally aligned Hezbollah, said on Monday that President Macron’s words were a “grave political injustice”.
“We are very open to the French initiative, but we will not accept anything less that what is in the nation’s interest, and threats are shameful. Our doubts are growing,” he said, according to the NNA.
Lebanese daily Al Akhbar, which is sympathetic to Hezbollah, wrote on Monday that the French president had "joined Washington and Riyadh", in reference to their hardline approach to the Iran-backed party, and described Mr Macron's tone as "insolent".
The newspaper claimed that Mr Adib did not resign because of Amal’s insistence on controlling the finance ministry but because of “America’s determination to keep Hezbollah out of the government”.
The European Union joined France in expressing its “disappointment” and “concern” at the political deadlock in Lebanon, stating on Monday that politicians “must unite and do their utmost for the timely formation of a government”.