Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
Mohamed Azakir | Reuters
Lebanese politician and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Thursday renounced his mandate to form a government for the country in crisis, plunging Lebanon into even deeper chaos as its beleaguered currency hit an all-time low.
After nearly nine months of fruitless negotiations to form a cabinet with his counterpart, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Hariri resigned as prime minister designate.
There is currently no apparent alternative to filling Hariri’s post, leaving little prospect of recovery for the country’s devastated economy.
“It is clear that we will not be able to agree with His Excellency the President,” Hariri told reporters after a meeting with Aoun which lasted less than 20 minutes. “This is why I apologize for forming the government.”
Anti-government protesters take part in a protest against political elites and government in Beirut, Lebanon, August 8, 2020 after the massive explosion at the Port of Beirut.
STR | NurPhoto via Getty Images
According to Hariri, the disagreement centered on the changes that Aoun demanded from his cabinet selection that the former prime minister was unable to agree to.
Hariri was tasked with the challenge of forming a new government in October, about two months after a horrific explosion in the port of Beirut killed more than 200 people and sparked protests of anger, prompting the prime minister to Hassan Diab era to resign.
The World Bank has called Lebanon’s economic crisis one of the worst in modern history. Its lira is now 21,000 to the dollar on the black market, having lost more than 90% of its value this year amid crippling financial mismanagement, state corruption and a serious banking crisis. The government has seen various short-lived or interim leaders since popular protests forced Hariri to step down as prime minister in October 2019.
The small Mediterranean country of nearly 7 million inhabitants, which is home to 1.5 million foreign refugees, is experiencing a massive exodus of its citizens who can leave the country. Food inflation has skyrocketed to 400%, hospitals are regularly overwhelmed by the coronavirus and the Lebanese army can no longer afford the salaries of its soldiers.
Western and Gulf countries that have provided financial aid to Lebanon in the past are now refusing to do so, citing the pervasive mistrust of the country’s notoriously corrupt political class.
Many Lebanese say the scale of the current crisis is far worse than the bloody Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990 and that the coronavirus pandemic, which overwhelmed its health system, is the least of their concerns.
The Lebanese government has failed for years to adopt political and economic reforms to manage its crippling debt, clean up its banking sector, and tackle the entrenched corruption of political elites – corruption allowed in part by the country’s complex sectarian system of government.
Lebanon is home to 18 different religious communities. For this reason, his unique but widely criticized consensus government rests on a power-sharing structure whereby the Prime Minister, President and Speaker of the House must come from the three largest religious groups in the country: Sunni, Maronite and Shiite.
This configuration, according to Lebanese citizens and regional experts, often facilitates and encourages corruption, bribery and interference by foreign powers through these various sectarian groups.