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Lebanon impasse deepens as financial strains grow

Protesters take part in the ongoing anti-government protest in Beirut, Lebanon on 13 November, 2019 [Mahmut Geldi/Anadolu Agency]
Protesters take part in the ongoing anti-government protest in Beirut, Lebanon on 13 November, 2019 [Mahmut Geldi/Anadolu Agency]

Lebanon’s political impasse has deepened after a tentative deal on a new prime minister unravelled, leaving the country rudderless as it grapples with the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, reports Reuters.

Six weeks since Saad al-Hariri resigned as prime minister, prompted by protests against the ruling elite, the financial crisis is generating concerns for Lebanon’s stability: banks are enforcing capital controls, dollars are scarce, and the Lebanese pound has lost a third of its value on a black market.

France confirmed it would host an international conference in support of Lebanon on Wednesday, saying this aimed to press Beirut to quickly form a government to restore the economic situation.

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But analysts saw little prospect of a quick end to a standoff that reflects an old power struggle between Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states, and adversaries including the Iran-backed Shia group Hezbollah.

Protests in Lebanon - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Protests in Lebanon – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

“They are trying to see who can scream first and it is too dangerous a game,” said Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center.

“There are deep miscalculations by all political sides about how this will unfold. The old type of politics does not apply.”

The impasse returned to square one on Sunday when businessman Samir Khatib withdrew his candidacy to be prime minister after the Sunni religious establishment said it wanted Hariri in the job, which is reserved for a Sunni.

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Hariri has said he would only return to lead a cabinet of specialist ministers, believing this is the way to address the economic crisis, attract foreign aid, and satisfy protesters who have been in the streets since Oct. 17 seeking the removal of an entire political class blamed for state corruption and misrule.

But Hezbollah and its allies including President Michel Aoun said the government must include politicians.

Hariri has not commented since Khatib withdrew his candidacy. A political source said his position was unchanged.

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