France “regrets” that Lebanon was unable to form a new government after a massive resignation following a deadly explosion in the port of Beirut last month, the office of President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday .
“It is not too late,” said the French statement, after the expiration of a mid-September deadline set by Macron, who has acted as a broker to find common ground between rival political factions from Lebanon.
The statement called on officials to help incumbent Prime Minister Mustapha Adib “to form a government capable of dealing with the gravity of the situation.”
Macron is pushing for a reshuffled cabinet that will address the urgent revisions needed to get the Lebanese economy back on its feet and respond to deep public anger over the August 4 port explosion that killed 191 people.
For many Lebanese, the disaster is the result of long-standing corruption and the ineptitude of a political class that has failed to establish a functioning state or maintain the rule of law.
The French president has visited Beirut twice since the disaster in an attempt to forge a working consensus for a reforming government, warning that he will block donor recovery funds if no progress is made.
“We continue to closely monitor the situation and continue our contacts with Lebanese political leaders to renew our insistence on this issue,” Macron’s office said.
The Adib sought to appoint ministers so that they could start working on a French roadmap. Sources say he has sought to change control over ministries, many of which have been held by the same factions for years.
But key Shiite and Christian actors in the sectarian power-sharing system complained that Adib, a Sunni Muslim, did not consult them.
“It appears that some did not understand or did not want to understand that the French initiative is the last opportunity to save Lebanon and prevent its disappearance”, wrote Walid Joumblatt, the head of the Druze community in Lebanon, on Twitter.
He echoed comments from French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who said last month that Lebanon could disappear without critical reforms.
Simon Abi Ramia, a lawmaker from the Free Christian Patriotic Movement, said on Twitter that Lebanon faces a critical 24-hour period in which either “the logic of reason” wins and a government emerges or Adib resigns .
France’s roadmap set milestones for a new government, ranging from resuming stalled negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to repairing the broken power system.
But the plan stumbled at the first hurdle as the Lebanese political elite, which oversaw years of industrial-scale state corruption, bickered over how the cabinet is formed.
The most significant objections came from the Speaker of the Shiite Parliament Nabih Berri, an ally of the Iranian-backed Shia group Hezbollah. He insisted on appointing the Minister of Finance, a position he has decided since 2014.
Hezbollah, a heavily armed group backed by Iran, backs its position, telling President Michel Aoun on Tuesday that Shia ministers must be approved by Shia parties and that the finance minister must be Shia, sources said.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni whose support was central to Adib’s appointment, said no sect had the exclusive right to access the finance ministry or other portfolios.
In a tweet, Hariri said dismissing the idea of changing control of ministries was frustrating “the last chance to save Lebanon and the Lebanese,” referring to the French initiative.