Patrick Durel, an adviser to French President Macron for the Middle East and North Africa affairs, delivered an ultimatum for rival Lebanese factions to act quickly in forming a new Cabinet of specialists to deliver reforms.
Otherwise, the crisis-ridden country risked losing the chance to receive promised international aid to help it out of its deteriorating economy.
Political sources said on Sunday that the French president’s envoy has failed to make an imminent breakthrough with Lebanon’s political leaders in the weekslong Cabinet formation deadlock.
Hope for the creation of a new government to enact urgent reforms is further waning, which has also impacted the local currency that dropped to its lowest in 30 days on Monday.
Durel held two days of talks last week with President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Saad Hariri, and leaders of the country’s leading political parties. These talks centered on reviving the French initiative to salvage Lebanon’s collapsing economy and accelerating the formation of a new government to deliver reforms.
Macron’s rescue initiative for Lebanon has not led to the formation of a government yet, three months after its launch.
Then prime minister-designate, Mustafa Adib, apologized on September 26th for his inability to form a government and stepped down. His successor, Saad Hariri, is still facing formation obstacles since his designation on October 22nd.
During his meeting with President Michel Aoun on Thursday, Durel said: “France will keep providing urgent assistance to Lebanon in several fields, especially education.”
However, Durel added that “the international community’s fulfillment of its obligations toward Lebanon is linked to the implementation of reforms.”
Durel stressed in his meetings with the Lebanese politicians that the implementation of reforms outlined in the French initiative was essential to unlocking international aid for Lebanon.
Pessimism over the possibility of resolving the stalemate is rising amid ongoing disagreement over the government’s formation. That’s all due to the inflexibility of the Free Patriotic Movement of Gebran Bassil, the position of Hezbollah and Amal movement on the finance portfolio, and the objection of Hezbollah’s allies for not having the party represented in the next government.
US sanctions against Bassil, on the grounds of corruption charges, also contributed to the delay of the government formation.
The president’s office said Aoun assured the French envoy that “Lebanon adheres to the French initiative for the benefit of Lebanon,” but stressed the need for “a broad national consensus to form a government that can achieve the required tasks, in cooperation with parliament, to pass necessary reform laws.”
A spokesperson continued that Aoun complained to Durel: “The financial forensic auditing process in the accounts of the Lebanese Central Bank, which is considered one of the foundations of these reforms, is facing many obstacles.” He assured him that “a three-month extension has been made for Alvarez and Marsal to secure what facilitates its mission.”
Hariri has so far refused to go into any details related to the formation of the government and the obstacles he is facing. His media adviser, Hussein Al-Wajh, has publicly stated that “any statement or analysis regarding the fate of the government issued by any party is a personal opinion and Hariri has nothing to do with it,”
Durel emphasized during the meetings that the French initiative is the only valid option on the table to save Lebanon, otherwise, the cost will be much worse than what is happening now, if the time factor is ignored.