Lebanon decides on new PM as Macron visits

BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s under-fire political leaders scrambled into action as French President Emmanuel Macron visited the country yesterday for a fresh visit aimed at pushing change.

Macron returned 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 yesterday morning, with most of the ruling elite’s top barons apparently settling on a little-known diplomat, Lebanon’s Ambassador to Germany Mustapha Adib.

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.

Members of the Lebanese army and French military walk along the damaged site of the massive August 4 blast in Beirut’s port area. PHOTO: AFP

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 on Sunday to change the way Lebanon is governed.

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.

“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.

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.