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Four months after the explosion in Beirut, a country at a standstill

Almost four months after the explosion that devastated the port of Beirut and several districts of the Lebanese capital, forcing the government of Hassan Diab to resign, the process of forming a new executive has stalled.

This institutional paralysis, a sad classic of Lebanese political life, heightens the current economic crisis, marked by inflation of 120%, a depreciation of the pound of around 80% and a collapse of the Central Bank’s reserves. This situation could lead, in the short term, to a lifting of subsidies on imports of basic products, further strangling the population whose purchasing power has collapsed.

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To stem this descent into hell, French President Emmanuel Macron launched, when he came to Beirut at the end of August, an initiative calling for the formation, within two weeks, of a tightened executive made up of experts dubbed by the gone. A mission government, supposed to implement the reforms demanded by Lebanon’s donors for nearly two decades.

Diplomat Mustapha Adib, initially chosen to implement this roadmap, verbally endorsed by all parties, threw in the towel after three weeks. Its efforts have notably stumbled over the refusal of the Shiite Amal party to cede the financial portfolio it has held since 2014 and which gives it a sort of veto on government action. A hardening following the sanctions imposed by the United States on two allies of Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Shiite movement, including an official of Amal.

Avoidance strategy

The onus of forming the government fell to Saad Hariri, leader of the Sunni community and prime minister three times since the late 2000s. But his efforts have not been fruitful so far. They come up against the hostility of Gebran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement (CPL, Christian right), who insists on appointing “his” ministers within the future government. Pressure from the United States, which now refuses Hezbollah, the movement classified as terrorist by Washington, from being represented on this team, also hinders Mr. Hariri’s task. According to Lebanese media, the American ambassador in Beirut threatened to place him under sanctions, like Mr. Bassil, an ally of Hezbollah, if he exceeds this instruction.

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The investigation into the tragedy of August 4 is not progressing much further. The explosion of the huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored in the port of Beirut since 2014 has left more than 200 dead and thousands injured. Last week, investigating judge Fadi Sawan called on parliament to open an investigation into several outgoing and former ministers. But for lawyer Nizar Saghieh, director of the NGO Legal Agenda, this initiative looks more like an avoidance strategy than the beginning of a solution. “This opens the way for political interference, he said. By doing so, the judge wants to avoid any confrontation with influential people. “

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