After less than seven months in power, on Monday, August 3rd, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassif HITTI resigned while the Government is accused of not being able to implement sufficient reforms. Minister HITTI declared that he is not able to fulfill his duties in the given situation, fearing “LEBANON might become a failed state”.
HITTI said there is an “absence of an effective will to achieve comprehensive structural reform,” according to The Associated Press. “I took part in the government to work for one boss, LEBANON,” the former Arab League diplomat said in a statement. “I found multiple bosses and conflicting interests in my country, and if they don’t come together for the interest of the Lebanese people and save it, the boat, God forbid, will sink.”
The authorities have promised reforms and also initiated negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, they did not reach any conclusion given the skepticism related to change, as perceived by the international community.
HITTI is the first member of the Cabinet to resign over the government’s handling of the crisis. His decision to step down reflects continued frustration among some officials with Beirut’s response to its fiscal issues. In late June, Alain BIFANI, the long-serving director-general of the Ministry of Finance, resigned. BIFANI, who was a member of the government team negotiating with the IMF, said the government was in a state of “denial” at the time. Earlier in June, another member of the IMF negotiations team also resigned.
LEBANON undergoes the worst economic crisis in decades, with currency depreciation, hyperinflation, massive layoffs, and major banking restrictions, which contribute to the general discontent. Last week, the leading international credit agency Moody’s downgraded LEBANON credit score to the lowest rating it has, indicating probable default. Despite the earlier success, COVID-19 cases have increased greatly in recent days, and protests against the government continue.
The resignation of Foreign Minister HITTI has deepened “distrust” in the government of PM Hassan DIAB, aggravating the state of “diplomatic isolation” surrounding the “ruling authority,” An Nahar daily reported on Tuesday, August 4th. DIAB’s cabinet was formed with the backing of Hezbollah and its political allies, including the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by President AOUN.
LEBANON’s formerly strong ties with Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, have been harmed by the growing role of the IRAN-backed group in Lebanese politics and in regional conflicts, including the war in Yemen.
On Tuesday, August 4th, the newly appointed Foreign Minister, Charbel WEHBE, declared that the critical situation should not prevent the Government and the state from finding long-term solutions to the crisis while cooperating with the international community.
Thanking President Michel AOUN and PM Hassan DIAB who placed their trust in him, Mr. WEHBE insisted on the importance of “cooperation with the international community”, in particular on the issue of the “safe and dignified” return of refugees in their country, expressing its intention to implement the government’s roadmap on this subject and to respect the Constitution on the refusal of settlement and ensure the return of the Palestinians. LEBANON hosts nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees, including less than a million registered with UN organizations, and some 174,000 Palestinian refugees.
For his part, Nassif HITTI welcomed “the return home of an old friend”, wishing him “all the possible success in these difficult and crucial times for the history of LEBANON”.