Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician, former premier Saad al-Hariri, called for the restoration of a French plan to lift the nation out of its worst financial crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
Former colonial power France, which has led foreign aid efforts, has tried to rally have Lebanese leaders to launch reforms to tackle the crisis. But they failed to agree a new government – the first step in the French roadmap – and have drawn a rebuke from French President Emmanuel Macron.
Lebanon urgently needs foreign cash to get out of a financial meltdown which has slashed the value of the currency since last year.
“I call on political parties to think well so as not to waste this chance…French President Macron’s initiative still stands and we can still enact it,” Hariri said in a TV interview late on Thursday. “If we let it fail, it would be a crime.”
Talks on a new cabinet hit a logjam as politicians wrangled over ministerial posts, with Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally Amal demanding they name the finance minister. Hariri and Hezbollah have blamed each other for the deadlock.
Hariri added that he would only return as prime minister – a post he has already held three times – if there was agreement by Lebanon’s fractious parties on securing an International Monetary Fund deal.
His coalition government was toppled a year ago by huge protests by Lebanese furious at an entrenched ruling elite that has overseen a state riddled with graft and drowning in debt.
Hariri, a Western ally traditionally aligned with Gulf Arab states, also said Lebanon had no way out of the crisis other than a programme with the IMF.
Foreign donors have made clear there will be no fresh aid unless Lebanese leaders launch reforms to tackle graft and improve governance, and engage in IMF negotiations.
IMF talks stalled this year over a row among Lebanese government officials, bankers and political parties about the vast scale of financial losses.
Hariri warned that he feared civil strife as the crisis spirals. It has fuelled unrest in a country where divisions run deep since the war, which was fought along sectarian lines by factions still dominating Lebanese politics.
“What is happening in terms of carrying arms and what we are seeing in terms of military displays in the street…means the collapse of the state,” Hariri said.
(This story refiles to insert missing word “have” in paragraph 2)