Lebanon New Government and Economic Crisis
September 11, 2021
After a year of conflicts over cabinet seats that has impacted a disastrous economic collapse, Lebanese leaders agreed to a new government led by Sunni tycoon Najib Mikati on Friday, paving the way for a continuation of talks with the IMF. According to senior Lebanese political sources, the breakthrough came after a flurry of contacts from France, which has led efforts to get Lebanon’s fragmented leaders to agree on a cabinet and begin reforms since last year’s disastrous Beirut port explosion.
The French foreign ministry did not respond immediately. Mikati’s eyes welled up with tears and his voice broke in televised comments as he described the hardship and relocation caused by the crisis, which has forced three-quarters of the population into poverty. The biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-1990 civil war, the crisis reached a tipping point last month when fuel shortages brought much of the country to a halt, sparking numerous security incidents and adding to Western concerns and warnings of worse to come if nothing is done.
According to the presidency, Mikati and President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, signed a decree establishing the government in the presence of Nabih Berri, the Shia speaker of parliament. Mikati stated that divisive politics must be set aside and that he could not go to the IMF for talks only to face opposition at home. He promised to seek support from Arab countries, many of which have shied away from Lebanon due to the extensive influence wielded in Beirut by the heavily armed Islamist group Hezbollah.
Lebanon could no longer afford to continue funding goods like imported fuel, he said, adding that the country lacked the hard cash reserves to do so. In addressing the day-to-day difficulties, he described how mothers had been forced to reduce the amount of milk they gave to their children. “If a mother’s eldest son leaves the country and she has tears in her eyes, she can’t buy a Panadol pill,” he said, referring to the country’s medication shortages.
Mikati also stated that the parliamentary elections planned for next spring would take place on time. The new cabinet, like the outgoing one of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, is made up of ministers with technical expertise who are not powerful politicians but have been appointed by the major parties. In the proposed new cabinet lineup, Youssef Khalil, a senior central bank official and aide to Governor Riad Salameh, was named finance minister. Two of the 24 ministers were named by the heavily armed Islamist movement Hezbollah, a political ally of Aoun.