Lebanese President In Talks With Parliament To Name New Premier

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on August 31, 2020 shows President Michel Aoun (C) meeting with prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib (R) and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the presidential palace in Baabda east of the capital Beirut. – (Photo by Handout / DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP) 

 

Lebanese President Michel Aoun will begin parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister next week, his office said on Wednesday.

It will mark the third attempt to name a new premier in less than a year following a series of resignations in the face of a deepening economic crisis and a port explosion that ravaged entire districts of the capital.

Outgoing prime minister Hasan Diab quit in the wake of the colossal August 4 explosion at Beirut port that killed more than 190 people and wounded at least 6,500.

His designated successor Mustapha Adib stepped down last month after he failed to forge a consensus around a new government line-up.

“President Aoun has set Thursday, October 15 as the date for holding parliamentary consultations to assign a figure to form a new government,” his office said on Twitter.

Since the Beirut port blast, Western governments have stepped up pressure on Lebanese leaders to put in place a government ready to implement sweeping reforms and unlock much-needed aid.

On a visit to Beirut at the beginning of last month, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had secured promises from Lebanon’s factions to install a reform-minded administration within a fortnight.

When Diab finally abandoned his efforts to get faction leaders to deliver, Macron accused them of looking to their own selfish interests rather than those of the country.

The date set by Aoun for the start of parliamentary consultations comes just two days before Lebanon marks the first anniversary of a nationwide protest movement demanding sweeping political reform.

Its rallies lost momentum earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic hit, but public anger has soared since the port blast, which was caused by the ignition of a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate fertiliser that had been left uninspected for years.

A confessional power-sharing system, which has been in place ever since the end of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, has created an entrenched, often hereditary, political elite that the protest movement holds responsible for the country’s woes.

-AFP

Lebanon, Israel Hold Talks To Settle Border Disputes

 

(FILES) A file picture taken on September 5, 2018 near the Rosh Hanikra border crossing in northern Israel, shows the Naqura Bay south of the Lebanese city of Tyre as seen behind a new wall on the Israeli-Lebanese border. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

 

Lebanon and Israel said Thursday they will hold US-brokered negotiations on their disputed land and maritime borders, the first talks in decades between two countries technically still at war.

The United States will act as a facilitator during the talks to be held in the southern Lebanon border town of Naqoura, Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told a news conference in Beirut, without giving a date.

In Israel, Energy Minister Youval Steinitz said in a statement the “direct negotiations” would be held after the Jewish feast of Sukkot that ends October 10.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed what he a called a historic agreement between the two countries to discuss their disputed borders, a “result of nearly three years of intense diplomatic engagement.”

Berri said a framework agreement had been reached to start the negotiations, and read out a September 22 copy of it.

“The United States were asked by both sides, Israel and Lebanon, to act as a mediator and facilitator to draw up the maritime borders, and it is ready to do this,” he quoted it as saying.

“On the issue of (the) maritime border, continuous talks will be held at the UN headquarters in Naqoura under UN sponsorship,” he said.

“The US representatives and the US special coordinator for Lebanon are prepared to provide meeting minutes together that they will sign and present to Israel and Lebanon to sign at the end of each meeting,” he added.

The UN peacekeeping force patrolling the shared border welcomed the news.

UNIFIL “welcomes today’s announcement of a framework agreement to launch negotiations between Lebanon and Israel on maritime border demarcation between the two countries,” it said.

The talks between Lebanon and Israel, which are still technically at war, follow two years of indirect contacts via the US administration, Steinitz’s office said.

Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement fought a devastating war in 2006.

At the time, then Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora said that Lebanon would be the “last Arab country to make peace with Israel”.

US envoy David Schenker on September 8 said he hoped to come to Lebanon and sign a framework agreement towards starting discussions “in the coming weeks”.

The issue of the maritime border is particularly sensitive due to the possible presence of hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean.

In February 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for offshore drilling in two blocks in the Mediterranean for oil and gas with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek.

Lebanon in April said initial drilling in Block 4 had shown traces of gas but no commercially viable reserves.

Exploration of the other one, Block 9, has not started and is more controversial as ownership is disputed.

-AFP

Human Trafficking: 70 Stranded Nigerian Girls Return From Lebanon

 

Another batch of 70 stranded Nigerian girls evacuated from Lebanon by the Federal Government and the Lebanese community in Nigeria arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on Sunday.

The spokesperson for the Lebanese community in Nigeria, Philip Wehbe, while receiving them at the airport in Abuja told Channels Television that the evacuation is in fulfillment of the community’s resolve to ensure that no Nigerian is left stranded in Lebanon.

READ ALSO: ‘We Will Follow Through’: Kyari Hails FG’s Deal With Labour

He revealed that 470 Nigerian ladies have been so far been evacuated from Lebanon and appreciated the Nigerian Government for their efforts in securing the return of the girls back home.

“We saw a viral video a long time ago and we started bringing a lot of stranded girls from Lebanon, we already brought 470 girls, and today we are here to receive another batch of 70 girls from Lebanon,” Wehb said.

There have been several pleas from Nigerian girls stranded in the country seeking assistance to enable them to return home after being lured to Lebanon by human traffickers.

 

See photos of the girls at the airport below…

PHOTOS: Sodiq Adelakun/Channels TV

Huge Fire Erupts In Lebanon Port Weeks After Deadly Blast

Lebanese firefighters try to put out a fire that broke out at Beirut's port area, on September 10, 2020. Thick black columns of smoke rose into the sky, as the army said it had engulfed a warehouse storing engine oil and vehicle tyres. ANWAR AMRO / AFP
Lebanese firefighters try to put out a fire that broke out at Beirut’s port area, on September 10, 2020. Thick black columns of smoke rose into the sky, as the army said it had engulfed a warehouse storing engine oil and vehicle tyres. ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

A huge fire raged in Beirut port on Thursday, sparking alarm among Lebanese still reeling from the devastating dockside explosion that disfigured the capital last month.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze just over a month after the August 4 blast which killed more than 190 people, wounded thousands and ravaged much of the capital.

Huge columns of black smoke, visible from faraway neighbourhoods, billowed above the site of the fire.

Haitham, a 33-year-old worker at a company at the port, told AFP how he fled the new fire in fear.

“We were working when all of a sudden they started yelling at us to get out,” he said. “There was welding going on… and a fire broke out. We don’t know what happened.

A picture taken from Dbayeh, north of Beirut, shows smoke from a huge fire raging at the port in the Lebanese capital on September 10, 2020. Thick black columns of smoke rose into the sky, as the army said it had engulfed a warehouse storing engine oil and vehicle tyres.  Joseph EID / AFP
A picture taken from Dbayeh, north of Beirut, shows smoke from a huge fire raging at the port in the Lebanese capital on September 10, 2020. Joseph EID / AFP

 

“We dropped everything and started running … It reminded us of the explosion.”

The interim head of the port, Bassem al-Kaissi, told Lebanese television channel LBC that the blaze started in the port’s free zone, where an importer had stocked cooking oil containers and tyres.

The fire “started with oil containers before moving on to the tyres,” he said. “It was either caused by the heat or by a mistake. It’s too early to say.”

‘Can’t take this much trauma’

The army reported it was responding to the fire, also saying it had broken out at a warehouse containing oil and tyres.

“Operations have begun to extinguish the fire and army helicopters will take part,” it said on Twitter.

Social media users posted video footage which unsettled Beirut residents only just recovering from the country’s deadliest peacetime disaster.

“Insane fire at the port, causing a panic all across Beirut. We just can’t catch a break,” Aya Majzoub, a researcher for the group Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter.

“We can’t take this much trauma,” another user wrote.

Lebanese firefighters try to put out a fire that broke out at Beirut's port area, on September 10, 2020. Thick black columns of smoke rose into the sky, as the army said it had engulfed a warehouse storing engine oil and vehicle tyres.  ANWAR AMRO / AFP
Lebanese firefighters try to put out a fire that broke out at Beirut’s port area, on September 10, 2020. Thick black columns of smoke rose into the sky, as the army said it had engulfed a warehouse storing engine oil and vehicle tyres.
ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

The August 4 blast sparked widespread outrage after it emerged authorities had been aware for years of the presence of the huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate that blew up, and the scandal forced the government to resign.

Criminology researcher Omar Nashabe tweeted about the latest disaster: “Where are we living?”

“This is the scene of the crime a month ago! Where is the judiciary? Where is the state? Where is responsibility?”

The port blast had heaped new misery on Lebanese already battling the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s worst economic crisis in decades, which has seen poverty rates double to more than half the population.

Lebanon has launched a probe into the blast, one off the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever, and arrested 25 suspects so far.

Among them are top port and customs officials, as well as Syrian workers who allegedly carried out welding hours before the explosion.

Lebanon has rejected an international investigation into the explosion, but its probe is being aided by foreign experts, including from the American FBI and France.

 

AFP

Hezbollah, Hamas Chiefs Meet To Discuss Israel-Arab Ties

A handout picture released by the Hezbollah press office on September 6, 2020 shows Hassan Nasrallah (R), the head of Lebanon’s militant Shiite movement Hezbollah, meeting with Hamas’ political bureau chief Ismail Haniya (L) at an undisclosed location. (Photo by – / various sources / AFP)

 

Leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movement, both enemies of Israel, have met to discuss diplomatic normalisation between the Jewish state and Arab countries, a report said Sunday.

They stressed the “stability” of the “axis of resistance” against Israel, the Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV channel reported, without saying where or when the meeting took place.

Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement, was pictured meeting Ismail Haniyeh, who heads the political bureau of Hamas, the Islamist movement that control the Gaza Strip.

They discussed “political and military developments in Palestine, Lebanon and the region” and “the dangers to the Palestinian cause” including “Arab plans for normalisation” with Israel, Al-Manar said.

The meeting comes after an August 13 announcement that the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to normalise ties.

While the US-backed diplomatic drive aims to boost a regional alliance against Iran, Palestinians have condemned it as a “stab in the back” as they remain under occupation and don’t have their own state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country is in talks with other Arab and Muslim leaders now about normalising relations, following the deals with UAE and, decades ago, Egypt and Jordan.

Haniyeh has been in Lebanon since Wednesday, on his first visit to the country in nearly 30 years, for direct and video-conference talks with other Palestinian groups that oppose Israel’s diplomatic initiative.

Israel’s military has in recent weeks targeted Hamas in the Gaza Strip and what it says have been Hezbollah gunmen along its northern border with Lebanon.

It also regularly launches air strikes in war-torn Syria against what it says are Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militants fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Nasrallah has been living in a secret location for years and makes very few public appearances. He said in 2014 that he often changes his place of residence.

AFP

World Bank Cancels Loan For Controversial Lebanon Dam

A file photo of the World Bank logo.

 

The World Bank on Friday said it was canceling a loan to fund a dam in Lebanon that environmentalists claimed could destroy a valley rich in biodiversity.

The Bisri Dam was partially suspended in June after the Washington-based development lender said it raised concerns about the project’s implementation and given the government of Lebanon until September 4 to finalize key agreements related to operations and maintenance as well as the environment.

In a statement, the World Bank said it had notified the government that it was withdrawing its financing “due to non-completion of the tasks that are preconditions to the commencement of construction.”

“The canceled portion of the loan is $244 million and the cancelation is effective immediately,” the bank said.

Located in a valley 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the capital, the dam aims to supply drinking water as well as irrigation for 1.6 million residents.

Environmentalists and some farmers disputed assurances from the government and World Bank that the dam to be built on a seismic fault line does not increase the risk of earthquakes.

AFP

Pope Francis Says Lebanon Faces ‘Extreme Danger’ After Blast

This photo taken and released on April 13, 2020, by the Vatican Media shows Pope Francis delivering his message during a private Angelus prayer live broadcast from the library of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on Easter Monday, during the lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. Handout / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP.

 

Pope Francis used a first public audience in six months Wednesday to warn that Lebanon faces “extreme danger that threatens the very existence of the country” following last month’s massive explosion.

The leader of the Catholic Church focused on the disaster-hit country almost a month after the huge blast in the Beirut harbour ripped through the city, killing more than 180 people and wounding at least 6,500.

“Lebanon cannot be abandoned to its solitude,” the pope said at the limited audience with the public, meetings that had been suspended due to the coronavirus crisis.

“A month after the tragedy… my thoughts are still with dear Lebanon and its particularly hard-pressed population,” Francis said, holding a Lebanese flag brought to the audience by a young priest.

He called for a universal day of prayer and fasting on Friday, saying that he would send the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin to Lebanon on the day.

“Faced with the repeated tragedies that each of the inhabitants of this land knows, we realise the extreme danger that threatens the very existence of this country,” he said.

– ‘It’s beautiful!’ –

The pontiff held his first audience in a closed courtyard of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, with a maximum of 500 faithful.

Jorge Bergoglio — Francis’ birth name — last hosted an audience on February 26, as the grip of Covid-19 closed around Italy.

Back then the Argentinian pope, who is fond of direct contact, shook hands with dozens of faithful and hugged a few children massed in the front row of the audience of some 12,000 people.

But there were no hugs on Wednesday, with Francis simply exchanging a few words with those present, all wearing face masks.

There was a rush to meet the pope by attendees as he entered the courtyard.

Always without a facemask, the pope kept his distance before succumbing slightly by the end of the ceremony, when he blessed three married couples, shook hands with some cardinals and took a Lebanese priest by the arm.

So far, the coronavirus has killed more than 35,000 people in Italy since it was first detected, according to the latest official statistics.

“After all these months, we are resuming our face-to-face and not screen-to-screen meetings,” a smiling pope told the audience.

“It’s beautiful!” he laughed.

“The current epidemic has demonstrated our interdependence, we are all linked,” the pontiff continued, saying “this is why we must emerge better from the crisis.”

“We must do it together, not alone,” he said.

– ‘Message of freedom’ –

Turning to Lebanon — a country Francis called “a message of freedom and an example of pluralism in both the East and the West” — he called on religious and political leaders to work together in its reconstruction.

“We cannot allow this heritage to be lost,” Francis said.

The pope also pressed the international community to help “Lebanon emerge from a serious crisis without being involved in regional tensions.”

Visibly moved by the pope’s message, Maronite priest George Breidi, a student at a Catholic university in Rome thanked the pontiff for his support.

The Maronite clergyman, whose Eastern Catholic Church is based in Beirut, also thanked the pope for “saying that we cannot continue to live like this in Lebanon”.

AFP

Lebanon PM Designate Bids To Form Crisis Cabinet Within Two Weeks

Lebanon’s newly appointed premier Mustapha Adib (C) speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, on August 31, 2020. – Lebanon named its envoy to Germany as the new premier to steer the country through a deep crisis after the Beirut explosion compounded a sharp economic downturn. JOSEPH EID / AFP.

 

Lebanon’s prime minister designate Mustapha Adib started talks on forming a crisis government Wednesday, under French pressure to complete the task within two weeks to move forward with desperately needed reforms.

The consultations came after a high-profile visit by French President Emmanuel Macron during which he said political leaders had agreed a road map for reform after last month’s devastating blast in the port of Beirut.

“As I leave Beirut, I want to say again and with conviction: I will not abandon you,” Macron said in a statement as he flew out on Wednesday.

The last government resigned in the face of public anger over the August 4 explosion that killed at least 188, wounded thousands and laid waste to entire districts of the capital.

Government formation is usually a drawn-out process in multi-confessional Lebanon where a complex political system seeks to share power between different religious groups.

But the country’s deadliest peacetime disaster has created intense pressure for swift reforms to lift the country out of its worst economic crisis in decades.

Premier designate Adib started meeting parliamentary bloc leaders, as Pope Francis warned Lebanon faced “extreme danger that threatens the very existence of the country”.

“Lebanon cannot be abandoned to its solitude,” the pope said.

Lebanese lawmakers rushed to approve the nomination of the little-known 48-year-old diplomat on Monday just hours before the French president landed.

– ‘Behaved like supreme leader’ –

Under Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the country’s main religious communities usually agree on a new government lineup before its announcement.

Lawmaker Bahia Hariri, of the Future Movement, a party representing Sunni Muslims, requested a “government of experts”.

The parliamentary leader of Shiite movement Hezbollah, Mohammad Raad, called for an “efficient, productive and cohesive government”.

Lebanon’s worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war has seen poverty rates double to more than half the population, sent prices soaring and trapped people’s savings in the banks.

Visiting to mark the centenary of the former French protectorate, Macron strove to push for political change without being perceived as meddling in the country’s affairs.

But Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar complained the French president had behaved like the “supreme leader of the Lebanese republic” on his visit.

Macron promised to host two conferences in Paris in the second half of October — one to help drum up aid and the other to discuss progress on political reforms.

He said he would be back in Lebanon in December for another follow-up.

International donors already pledged more than 250 million euros (around $300 million) in emergency aid, during a video conference jointly organised by France and the United Nations.

Macron said on Tuesday that Adib could only “obtain legitimacy by quickly forming a mission government made up of professionals, the strongest possible team.”

– ‘Clock is ticking’ –

Analyst Karim Bitar said that, considering the speed with which the prime minister was nominated, Lebanon could actually have a new government within the next few weeks.

“Everyone in Lebanon now realises that we no longer have the luxury of time, that the clock is ticking,” he said.

“I do think that the French pressure will lead to some forms of change in the short term because Lebanon is in such a difficult financial” situation, but these risked being only “cosmetic reforms”.

“But I very much doubt that they… would accept the structural reforms, the systemic reforms that Lebanon desperately needs because that would mean their own disappearance ultimately.”

A protest movement, which has taken to the streets since last October demanding the ouster of the political elite, has already rejected Adib’s nomination on principle.

They allege he is too close to a political class whose alleged corruption and incompetence they blame for the explosion of a large shipment of ammonium nitrate fertiliser that had been left to languish in Beirut port for years.

Hundreds protested on Tuesday evening demanding a secular state to replace the sectarian system, with clashes erupting in the evening between some demonstrators and security forces.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Schenker, was due in Lebanon Wednesday, the State Department said.

He would “urge Lebanese leaders to implement reforms that respond to the Lebanese people’s desire for transparency, accountability, and a government free of corruption.”

AFP

Macron In High-Stakes Lebanon Reform Drive

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on August 31, 2020 shows Lebanese President Michel Aoun (C-R) and French President Emmanuel Macron (C-L), both wearing face masks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, during a welcome ceremony at Beirut International airport. DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP.

 

French President Emmanuel Macron pressed his “risky” drive for political change in Lebanon Tuesday, as the former French mandate marked its centenary while teetering on the brink of the abyss.

Macron has set an ambitious goal for his second visit since a deadly August 4 explosion ravaged Beirut: to press for change without being seen as a meddler.

He kicked off his trip on Monday, not by visiting political leaders, but by spending more than an hour with singing legend Fairuz, who at 85 is a rare unifying figure in Lebanon.

Macron ticked off more symbols to mark 100 years Tuesday since French mandate authorities proclaimed the creation of Greater Lebanon.

In the Jaj forest northeast of Beirut, he planted a cedar tree — Lebanon’s national symbol — to express “confidence in the future of the country,” his office said in a statement.

The French air force flew overhead leaving a trail of red, white and green smoke — the colours of the country’s flag.

Macron then returned for a second visit to Beirut port, ground zero of the colossal blast that killed more than 180 people, wounded at least 6,500 others and laid waste to entire districts of the capital.

He oversaw the distribution of aid from the French helicopter carrier Tonnerre which arrived in Beirut on August 14.

Macron also met with some 400 French soldiers working with the Lebanese army to clear thousands of tonnes of debris from the port, vital for a country whose food is 85 percent imported.

– ‘Demanding without interfering’ –

Macron will then begin the most sensitive and anticipated leg of his visit: difficult discussions with under-fire political leaders widely blamed for the explosion, which was caused by a stockpile of ammonium nitrate fertiliser that had languished in the port for years.

Upon his arrival on Monday, Macron said his position towards Lebanon’s political establishment “is unchanged: demanding without interfering”.

For this position to be deemed credible by disenchanted Lebanese as well as by the rest of the international community, Macron must obtain swift results.

This is why on Monday evening he called for a so-called “mission government” to spearhead reforms just hours after Lebanese President Michel Aoun designated Mustapha Adib as the country’s new prime minister.

The French president said it was not his place to “approve” of the designation of Adib — a little known 48-year-old diplomat who since 2013 had served as Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany.

But if Lebanon hopes to unlock desperately needed international assistance, political leaders must enact “real reforms” long demanded by donors, Macron said.

“If we do not do this, the Lebanese economy will collapse” and “the only victim will be the Lebanese people (…) who cannot go into exile”, he warned on Friday.

– ‘Risky’ –

Adib was named on Monday by political leaders widely seen as inept and corrupt by demonstrators who have taken to the streets in mass protests since October 17 against the entire political class.

The protest camp has already rejected the choice of Adib as premier, charging that he is too close to established political circles.

“No cabinet by or with the murderers” said posters brandished by demonstrators who waited for Macron outside Fairouz’s home.

Late on Monday, Macron also met with former prime minister Saad Hariri at the Ottoman-era residence of the French ambassador, from whose porch 100 years ago Greater Lebanon was proclaimed.

After a lunch with Aoun in the presidential palace on Tuesday, he will meet with representatives of the country’s top nine political blocs in the second such talks since the blast.

Representatives of the powerful Hezbollah movement, designated by the US as a terrorist group, will be among those meeting Macron.

The French president has justified his openness to “talk with everyone”, including Hezbollah, by saying the Iran-backed group is “a political force that is represented in parliament”.

With the protest camp warning against giving another lease of life to a hereditary ruling class that will only pay lip service to reform, Macron admitted in an interview that his brokering drive was a gamble.

“It’s a risky bet I’m making, I am aware of it… I am putting the only thing I have on the table: my political capital,” he told Politico.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday his movement was “open” to a proposal made by Macron on his previous visit for a new political pact for the country.

Aoun and parliament speaker Nabih Berri have followed suit by backing calls for the formation of a “secular” state.

AFP

Lebanon’s PM-Designate Vows Reforms, New IMF Talks

Lebanon’s newly appointed premier Mustapha Adib (C) speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, on August 31, 2020. – Lebanon named its envoy to Germany as the new premier to steer the country through a deep crisis after the Beirut explosion compounded a sharp economic downturn. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

 

Lebanese prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib vowed Monday to swiftly launch a reformist government and seek international financial assistance after the Beirut blast deepened a political and economic crisis.

In a televised speech after his nomination, Adib said there is “a need to form a government in record time and to begin implementing reforms immediately, starting with an agreement with the International Monetary Fund”.

An AFP correspondent then spotted him in an immaculate white shirt, tie and face mask touring the Gemmayzeh neighbourhood, which was hard hit by an August 4 Beirut explosion.

“I want your trust,” the AFP correspondent heard him tell a resident.

The PM-designate also met with volunteers spearheading relief efforts in the blast-hit district, telling them he wanted the state to work with them in rebuilding Beirut.

No other senior government official has visited neighbourhoods near the port since the explosion.

Lebanon, mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, started IMF talks in May but they have since hit a wall.

Three negotiators with the government’s team have already quit in protest over the government’s handling over the crisis.

An August 4 Beirut explosion that killed more than 180 people and laid to waste entire districts of the capital has compounded the country’s economic woes.

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on August 31, 2020 shows President Michel Aoun (C) meeting with prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib (R) and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the presidential palace in Baabda east of the capital Beirut. – Lebanon’s under-fire political leaders named their envoy to Germany, Mustapha Adib, as new PM as French President Emmanuel Macron was expected Monday for a fresh visit aimed at pushing for political change. Handout / DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP.

It caused up to $4.6 billion worth of physical damage, according to a World Bank assessment. In addition, the report calculates the blow to economic activity at up to $3.5 billion.

In his speech, Adib said there “was no time for words, promises and wishes,” pledging instead to enact swift reforms long demanded by the international community.

Adib has been Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany since 2013 and his name only emerged on Sunday to replace Hassan Diab, whose government resigned in the aftermath of the deadly August 4 blast.

The 48-year-old was born in the northern city of Tripoli.

From 2000 to 2004, he served as an advisor to Najib Mikati, a billionaire and former prime minister who backed his nomination on Monday.

In 2011, then-prime minister Mikati appointed Adib as his chief of cabinet.

AFP

Mustapha Adib, Lebanon’s New PM-Designate

Lebanon’s newly appointed premier Mustapha Adib (C) speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, on August 31, 2020. – Lebanon named its envoy to Germany as the new premier to steer the country through a deep crisis after the Beirut explosion compounded a sharp economic downturn. JOSEPH EID / AFP.

 

Mustapha Adib, a little-known diplomat who was nominated to become Lebanon’s new prime minister Monday, faces the nearly impossible challenge of embodying change after being picked by the political establishment.

Adib has been Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany since 2013 and his name only emerged on Sunday to replace Hassan Diab, whose government resigned in the aftermath of the deadly August 4 blast at Beirut port.

The 48-year-old was born in the northern city of Tripoli and is a Sunni Muslim, making him eligible to become prime minister under Lebanon’s sectarian-based power-sharing system.

His biography on the Berlin embassy website presents him as an academic who holds a PhD in political science.

It says he has conducted “research and expert work in the areas of both human and state security, parliamentary oversight of the security sector, decentralisation and local democracy, and electoral laws”.

From 2000 to 2004, he served as an advisor to Najib Mikati, a billionaire and former prime minister who backed his nomination on Monday.

In 2011, then-prime minister Mikati appointed Adib as his chief of cabinet.

Former premiers Saad Hariri and Fouad Siniora also threw their weight behind Adib after two other candidates were reportedly rejected by the dominant Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah and its political allies.

His appointment came on the day French President Emmanuel Macron was due to arrive for another landmark visit.

An acquaintance of Adib from Tripoli who asked not to be named described him as “calm, courteous and diplomatic”.

“He is not a man of confrontation and does not take strong stances, but avoids problems and strives to solve them diplomatically with a view to consolidating his relationship with different sides,” the acquaintance said.

Opposition groups representing the protest movement that erupted last year to demand the wholesale removal of a political class seen as corrupt and incompetent rejected Adib’s nomination before it was even confirmed.

Activists on social media were quick to compare Adib to Diab, who had promised to lead Lebanon’s first government of technocrats when he took office in January but showed no ability to break from his political sponsors.

Lebanon Rises Up — Germany, a Facebook page representing Lebanese activists in Germany, told AFP that Adib was a product of the past and could not embody change.

“We see no change for the better in Ambassador Mustapha Adib being named, as he is subject to the quota system in place in Lebanon,” the group said in a statement.

It claimed that Adib himself, who was not a career diplomat when he was appointed to Berlin seven years ago by a Mikati government, owed his job to the former prime minister and to Lebanon’s sectarian quotas.

AFP

Lebanon To Choose New Prime Minister As Macron Visits, Again

French President Emmanuel Macron (C), surrounded by Lebanese servicemen, visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut, on August 6, 2020 two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury.  Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron (C), surrounded by Lebanese servicemen, visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut, on August 6, 2020 two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury. Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP

 

Lebanon’s under-fire political leaders scrambled into action as French President Emmanuel Macron was expected Monday for a fresh visit aimed at pushing change in the crisis-hit country.

Macron was due to return less than a month after a landmark visit following the deadly Beirut port blast that traumatised Lebanon and renewed calls for a radical overhaul of the political system.

Parliamentary consultations at the presidential place on a new prime minister started on Monday morning, with most of the ruling elite’s top barons apparently settling on a little-known diplomat, Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany Mustapha French President Emmanuel Macron (C), surrounded by Lebanese servicemen, visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut, on August 6, 2020 two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury. Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP.

Already dismissed by the opposition as a product of Lebanon’s reviled sectarian-based politics, Adib faces the daunting task of steering the state through one of the deepest crises of its troubled 100-year history.

The Beirut blast, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, is widely blamed on government greed and incompetence and compounds the collapse of Lebanon’s economy over the past few months.

A vast stockpile of ammonium nitrate that had languished at Beirut’s port for years blew up on August 4, killing at least 188 people, wounding thousands and laying waste to large parts of the capital.

Macron demanded “deep change” when he visited Beirut on August 6 and warned then he would check on progress when he returns for the September 1 ceremony marking the centenary of Greater Lebanon.

President Michel Aoun and his political ally, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, both expressed willingness in separate speeches Sunday to change the way Lebanon is governed.

New premier

The 85-year-old Aoun, a hate figure in the protest camp who regards him as deaf to calls for change, even urged the proclamation of a secular state.

Suspicion was rife however that Lebanon’s long-serving heavyweights were only paying lip service to reform ahead of Macron’s visit, expected to start around 1700 GMT.

“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 political science professor Hilal Khashan.

“There is a big difference between raising a slogan and really putting it to work,” said the academic from the American University of Beirut.

A file photo taken on July 18, 2013, shows Lebanon's ambassador to Berlin Mustapha Adib (Adib-Abdul-Wahed) posing for a picture, upon his appointment to the position, in Bellevue Castle in the German capital Berlin. WOLFGANG KUMM / DPA / AFP
A file photo taken on July 18, 2013, shows Lebanon’s ambassador to Berlin Mustapha Adib (Adib-Abdul-Wahed) posing for a picture, upon his appointment to the position, in Bellevue Castle in the German capital Berlin. WOLFGANG KUMM / DPA / AFP

 

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.”

Adib emerged as a consensus option on Sunday.

The 48-year-old diplomat and close aide to former prime minister Najib Mikati received backing from the country’s Sunni Muslim political heavyweights.

Adib still needs to be formally approved during Monday’s consultations, but enough major factions endorsed him for his nomination to go through.

The only major dissenting voice within the political establishment came from the Lebanese Forces party which backed instead Nawaf Salam, an independent diplomat who also served as a judge at the International Court of Justice.

Under multi-confessional 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.

No grace period

A majority of lawmakers must decide on whom to name as premier before Aoun tasks the candidate with forming a new government, a process that can take months.

Lebanon’s last government, headed by Hassan Diab, resigned after the massive explosion.

The deadly blast, blamed on decades of negligence and corruption by the country’s ruling elite, revived calls at home and abroad for radical revamp of the state.

It also sparked demands for an international probe into the blast, which were however met with objections from political leaders.

Lebanese protesters hurl rocks towards security forces during clashes in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

Those who have taken to the streets in mass protests since October 17 against the politicians they deem corrupt and inept have already rejected any name that might emerge from the parliamentary consultations.

Despite promises of change, the process of forming the new government follows the same blueprint that has chronically mired Lebanon in political deadlock.

Social media networks abounded with posts questioning whether a government formed by Adib would be any more effective than Diab’s, which was formed in January but failed to lift the country out of crisis.

Hassan Sinno, a member of the Massirat Watan opposition group, said the political class’s new choice for the job of prime minister would not be given the same grace period Diab enjoyed.

“We won’t give him the time, like some of us made the mistake of doing for Hassan Diab,” he told AFP. “We can’t afford it this time.”

On the eve of Lebanon’s sombre centenary, many citizens were planning to leave the country and asked whether Lebanon would live to be 101.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian argued last week that only serious reforms could save Lebanon, warning that “the risk today is of Lebanon disappearing”.

 

AFP