Lebanons Fractious Politics Puts French Lifeline at Risk

BEIRUT—Lebanons sectarian politicians have overshot one deadline with France and missing more may put at risk a lifeline from Paris to haul the Middle East nation out of its worst crisis since a 1975-1990 civil war.

France has drawn up a timeline for Lebanon to tackle corruption and deliver reforms to help secure billions of dollars in foreign aid to save a country drowning in debt.

But the leaders who oversaw years of wasted state spending and corruption have stumbled at the first hurdle by failing to deliver on a promise to French President Emmanuel Macron to form a new cabinet by mid-September.

Choosing a cabinet may prove the easy part. Once named, the ministers have a mountain of challenges, ranging from reviving a paralyzed banking industry to fixing a power sector that cant keep the lights on in a nation of about 6 million.

Macron, who visited Beirut after a devastating port blast in August, has told politicians they could face sanctions if graft gets in the way. And Paris has repeatedly said there will be no aid without change.

Sectarian Politics Fuel Logjam

Factional, sectarian politics is to blame. At the heart of the cabinet, logjam has been a demand by the two main Shiite Muslim parties, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally Amal, to pick several ministers and to keep the finance post in their hands.

The finance ministry will have a vital role in drawing up plans to exit the economic crisis.

Under Lebanons sectarian power-sharing system, Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a Sunni, had sought to shake up the leadership of ministries, some of which have been controlled by the same factions for years.

Hezbollah, whose political influence has grown, and Amal view moves to shift them out of key cabinet posts as a bid to weaken their sway, politicians say.

They have a parliament majority with their Christian and other allies, although the cabinet dispute has put them at odds. President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian allied to Hezbollah, has said no sect should claim any ministry.

But Washingtons decision in September to impose U.S. sanctions on Hezbollahs allies deepened the Shiite blocs resolve to dig in over cabinet appointments, political sources say. Washington deems Hezbollah a terrorist group.

Yet foreign pressure could also deliver results. Macrons intervention prompted Lebanons bickering leaders to agree on the prime minister-designate hours before the French president arrived in Beirut on his second visit in less than a month.

Whats at Stake?

France has said Lebanon faces collapse if it doesnt change course. The Lebanese president has said the country is going “to hell” if it doesnt name a cabinet. Many Lebanese, thousands of whom took to the streets in 2019 to demand change, have already been plunged into poverty as the economy has crashed.

Lebanon needs cash (and fast) after defaulting on its towering sovereign debt and with its banks on their knees. The Beirut port blast, which killed almost 200 people, handed the nation a new repair bill estimated at up to $4.6 billion.

The central bank has been using up dwindling foreign reserves to subsidize vital imports of wheat, fuel, and medicine. Lifting subsidies, which the center has said cannot go on indefinitely, will bring more misery anRead More – Source