France has backed a proposal by Saad Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, to end an impasse preventing the formation of a cabinet to bring the nation out of its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Paris urged Lebanese politicians to quickly form a government, but the process was met with calls from Lebanon’s two main Shiite parties to appoint multiple ministers, including the finance minister.
In a statement on Tuesday, Hariri suggested that Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a Sunni Muslim in the Lebanese power-sharing system, nominate an “independent” Shiite candidate for the financial portfolio.
Lebanon’s problems were exacerbated by a devastating explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4th. Subsequent fires in and around the area and Tuesday’s explosion in southern Lebanon have further rocked the nation.
It was not immediately clear whether the two main Shiite groups, Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, would support Hariri’s idea. The pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar criticized the proposal.
A Shiite Muslim politician who was selected by the Amal boss has headed the Ministry of Finance for years. Adib wanted to shake up the ministerial posts.
The French Foreign Ministry welcomed Hariri’s “courageous declaration” on Wednesday. “This declaration represents an opening and all parties should understand its importance so that a mission government can now be set up,” it said.
President Michel Aoun, a Christian allied with Hezbollah, said Monday that Lebanon will go “to hell” if it cannot form a government to deal with the crisis that has crippled banks and sent the Lebanese pound into free fall and have plunged many into poverty.
Hariri, traditionally targeting the Arab Gulf states, said his idea was to “designate a Shiite party finance minister who would be independent,” but added that this did not mean he would accept the post always should be occupied by a member of the Shiites political parties.
France said Tuesday that Lebanon risked collapse if politicians did not quickly form a cabinet after missing a deadline of mid-September agreed with Paris.
“At this crucial moment in Lebanese history, Lebanese political forces are faced with a choice between the country’s recovery and collapse. It is a great responsibility towards the Lebanese, “said the spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, Agnes von der Muhll, to reporters in a daily briefing.