Lebanon is heading to “hell” if politicians don’t stop jockeying for their sect to retain control of key ministries and agree on a new government soon, President Michel Aoun warned on Monday as sectarian tensions rise over the formation of the new cabinet.
Prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib also urged all political parties to work to make a French plan for the country succeed immediately as the deadlock over Cabinet formation drags on.
Lebanon missed France’s 15-day deadline to form a crisis Cabinet last Wednesday and the government was stuck in deadlock at the weekend over who controls the Finance Ministry.
“With the entrenchment of positions, no solution seems imminent,” said the 85-year-old president.
Asked where the country was going without an agreement on a new administration, Mr Aoun replied starkly: “To hell, of course”.
As politicians squabble over who should appoint ministers to the new administration, the country faces the worst economic crisis in its history, rapidly rising unemployment and poverty as well as the massive destruction left by a huge explosion at Beirut port on August 4 which killed at least 190 and wounded thousands.
“I wish everyone to work for the success of the French initiative immediately and without delay,” Mr Adib tweeted on Monday.
“Any additional delay exacerbates and deepens the crisis and pushes people towards more poverty, and the state into more deficit.
“I do not think that anyone can hold their conscience responsible for causing more pain to the people, who have suffered so much and still are.”
Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, who heads the Hezbollah-backed Shiite Amal Movement, insisted on retaining hold of the Finance Ministry after the US last week slapped sanctions on his top aide, two former Cabinet ministers and close allies of Hezbollah.
Four former prime ministers, including Saad Hariri, are staunchly against the Shiite groups holding on to the ministry.
In a tweet, Mr Hariri said ministries – including the finance ministry – “are not an exclusive right for any sect” and the insistence on retaining the finance ministry for one sect was undermining “the last chance to save Lebanon and the Lebanese”.
Mr Adib’s French-backed efforts to form a government of experts without party loyalists have hit a wall.
The Hezbollah-allied Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) set out a proposal on Saturday in which the key ministries would be distributed among minority sects such as the Druze and Alawites, rather than major groups such as Sunnis, Shiites and Maronites.
Mr Adib is in favour of rotating the leadership of the ministries among the main sects.
Many of the ministries have been held by the same factions for years, including the Energy Ministry, which has been held by FPM for more than 10 years.
"Lebanon doesn't have the luxury of wasting time amid the unprecedented crises that it is going through," said Mr Adib, a Sunni Muslim who is backed by former prime ministers, including Mr Hariri.
The depths of Lebanon's economic crisis is presenting the biggest threat to the stability of the country since the 1975-1990 civil war.
French President Emmanuel Macron's road map for Lebanon set out a series of milestones to get the former French mandate out of its crises, from renewing talks with the International Monetary Fund to fixing the broken electricity sector.
But the political elite, who have overseen decades of entrenched corruption that brought about these crises, have so far failed to form a Cabinet.