World Politics

Lebanon's Hariri gives up on government formation, throwing the country into further chaos

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Key Points
  • The World Bank has called Lebanon's economic crisis one of the worst in modern history.
  • Its lira is now 20,000 to the dollar on the black market, having lost more than 90% of its value this year.
  • There are currently no apparent alternatives to fill Hariri's position, leaving little prospect of a turnaround for the country's devastated economy.
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
Mohamed Azakir | Reuters

Lebanese politician and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri gave up on his mandate to form a government for the crisis-rocked country on Thursday, sending Lebanon into yet deeper chaos as its beleaguered currency hits its lowest level ever.

After nearly nine months of failed negotiations to form a cabinet with his counterpart, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Hariri stepped down from his role as prime minister-designate.

There are currently no apparent alternatives to fill Hariri's position, leaving little prospect of a turnaround for the country's devastated economy.

"It is clear we will not be able to agree with his excellency the president," Hariri told reporters after a meeting with Aoun that lasted less than 20 minutes. "That is why I excuse myself from government formation."

Anti-government protesters take part in a demonstration against the political elites and the government, in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 8, 2020 after the massive explosion at the Port of Beirut.
STR | NurPhoto via Getty Images

According to Hariri, the disagreement centered on changes Aoun had demanded to his cabinet selection that the former prime minister could not agree to.

Hariri was tasked with the challenge of forming a new government in October, roughly two months after a horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut killed more than 200 people and ignited angry protests, prompting then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab to resign.

The World Bank has called Lebanon's economic crisis one of the worst in modern history. Its lira is now 21,000 to the dollar on the black market, having lost more than 90% of its value this year amid crippling financial mismanagement, state corruption and a severe banking crisis. The government has seen various fleeting or caretaker leaders since popular protests forced Hariri to resign as prime minister in October of 2019.

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The small Mediterranean country of nearly 7 million, home to 1.5 million foreign refugees, is suffering a mass exodus of its citizens who are able to leave the country. Food inflation has skyrocketed to 400%, hospitals are regularly overwhelmed by the coronavirus and the Lebanese army can no longer afford to pay its soldiers' salaries.

Western and Gulf nations that have provided financial aid to Lebanon in the past now refuse to do so, citing the pervasive mistrust of the country's notoriously corrupt political class.

Many Lebanese say that the scale of the current crisis is far worse than Lebanon's bloody civil war of 1975-1990 and that the coronavirus pandemic, which has overwhelmed its health-care system, is the least of their worries.

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Lebanon's government has for years failed to enact political and economic reforms to manage its crippling debt, clean up its banking sector and tackle entrenched corruption by political elites — corruption enabled in part by the country's complex sectarian governing system.  

Lebanon is home to 18 different religious communities. Because of this, its unique but widely criticized consensus government rests on a power-sharing structure whereby the prime minister, president and speaker of the house must come from the country's three largest religious groups: Sunni, Maronite Christian and Shiite, respectively.

This setup, Lebanese citizens and regional experts say, facilitates and often encourages graft, corruption, and interference from foreign powers via these various sectarian groups.

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