Lebanon’s Ambassador to Germany Mustapha Adib was named as prime minister on Monday by President Michel Aoun, three weeks after Lebanon’s previous Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his resignation in the wake of the deadly Beirut Port explosion.
While nominations to high-ranking positions in the Lebanese political system are often deadlocked for months or even years, the country’s major political blocs consolidated around Adib with uncharacteristic speed.
The next order of business will be to select a Cabinet, a usually months-long process of horse trading between the different parties.
The pressure was on to make a nomination before the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron in the country Tuesday. France has been heavily involved in the response to the Aug. 4 port explosion, with Macron organizing an international donor conference that raised some 250 million euros in pledged aid.
Adib has served as Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany since 2013. He also serves as an adviser to former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who joined with fellow former prime ministers Saad Hariri, Foaud Siniora and Tamam Salam in nominating Adib to head the new government.
Many had anticipated that Hariri, who resigned last October after the outbreak of massive anti-government protests, would be brought back to the top government position after Diab’s resignation, but he has so far resisted.
By convention, Lebanon’s prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim, the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim, and the president a Maronite Christian.
Hariri’s Future Movement party and allied parties did not take part in Diab’s government, which was seen as a “one color” government controlled by the Shia Hezbollah party and its allies, including President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. As a result, the Diab government had been viewed with suspicion by the West and Gulf states, from which Lebanon now needs funding, particularly after the port explosion.
A newly released damage assessment by the World Bank of the Beirut Port explosion estimates $3.8-4.6 billion in damages and $2.9-3.5 billion in economic losses from the explosion, with $1.8-2.2 billion in recovery and reconstruction funding needed for the next year.
Agreement on Adib
Future and Hezbollah both agreed on the nomination of Adib, along with a number of other major blocs, including the Progressive Socialist Party of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, signaling a return to the concept of a “unity government.”
Speaking after a meeting with Aoun Monday morning, Hariri said that Lebanon’s priority should be rebuilding after the port disaster and reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund so that “the international community will return its support to Lebanon to control the economic collapse…and return to growth.” Lebanon was seeking $10 billion from the fund to help the country get out of a major economic crisis even before the port explosion.
“All parliamentary blocs know that to reach this goal, there must be a government formed of people known for their competence, integrity and competence, and it must be formed quickly,” he said.
Nasser Yassin, director of research and interim director at the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, said it appeared that the French had played a large role in pushing Adib’s selection.
“Lebanese politicians always want to have a sponsor or a guardian to give them how to do it,” he said. “The French I guess were working a lot in the backstage to get the name of this person.”
Yassin said it appeared that Adib’s main selling points for the Lebanese political parties – apart from being acceptable to France and the West – were that he “he’s not someone provocative – he won’t rock the boat in terms of any new direction.”
But at the same time, he said it’s unclear from Adib’s track record if he will be up to the task of leading the country out of its multiple crises.
“The designated prime minister now, he has no solid experience, I think – we don’t know him we don’t know anything about him,” he said.
There were some dissenting voices to Adib’s nomination, including from Saad Hariri’s brother, Bahaa, who has taken a harder line on Hezbollah than Saad. Bahaa wrote, “Mustapha Adib is another proxy for Lebanon’s old system – it is not acceptable for warlords and militias to run our country. We need total change to make a new Lebanon.”
Likewise, the Lebanese Forces party – a Christian party that is a rival to the Free Patriotic Movement and which also remained outside the Diab government – declined to endorse Adib, instead naming judge Nawaf Salam as its pick.
The next order of business will be to select a Cabinet, which typically takes months.
While the current circumstances might suggest that the selection process should be quicker than usual, Yassin said that unless the French are heavily involved in that process as well, “knowing Lebanese politicians, I think they will take their time and they will go back to their old tricks of trying to get the most out of the new cabinet.”