Diplomat leads race to be new Lebanon PM

The Future Movement will nominate Lebanese ambassador to Germany Mustapha Adib to be PM in formal consultations. (File/AFP)
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Updated 31 August 2020

Diplomat leads race to be new Lebanon PM

  • Lebanon’s Future Movement to nominate Germany ambassador Adib for the post, which must go to a Sunni Muslim
  • The government led by Hassan Diab quit earlier this month following the catastrophic explosion at Beirut port

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s feuding politicians scrambled on Sunday to present a semblance of stability ahead of the arrival in Beirut on Monday of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Mustapha Adib, the ambassador to Germany, looks set to be named prime minister after he was nominated by both the Future Movement, the main Sunni bloc led by former prime minister Saad Hariri, and the largest Christian bloc, the Free Patriotic Movement, led by former foreign minister Gebran Bassil.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its ally the Amal Movement are also expected to support Adib’s nomination.

He will replace Hassan Diab, who resigned this month amid an outpouring of public anger after a devastating explosion at Beirut port killed nearly 190 people. Lebanon is also grappling with a financial meltdown that has devastated the economy.

Adib, 48, has a Ph.D. in political science and has been Lebanon’s ambassador in Germany since 2013. He is close to former prime minister Najib Mikati.

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Dr. Mustafa Alloush, a leading figure in the Future Movement, told Arab News earlier that the group would nominate “a person who has no political ambition.”

“Our nomination will be consistent with the conditions of French President Emmanuel Macron, that is, the character should not be one of the politicians in power,” he said.

Adib already faces opposition from the ranks of demonstrators who have taken to the streets since last October in protest at Lebanon’s inept and corrupt political class. 

“We reject the outcome of parliamentary consultations, which is already known in advance and will, as usual, lead to a so-called government of national unity, one that is cooked up abroad,” said Naji Abou Khalil, a member of the National Bloc opposition party that backs the protest movement.

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In his Sunday sermon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai said he was hoping for “a mini emergency government with the necessary powers for the state to rise from the bottom of its economic, financial and social misery and achieve the required reforms.”

He called for “a new state with new official faces characterized by independence, integrity and political experience, not stained by the epidemic of corruption.”

Macron will arrive in Beirut on Monday evening to press for political reform and reconstruction. His second visit since the port blast coincides with celebrations on Tuesday to mark Lebanon’s centenary.

The US too is urging change, and Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker will also visit this week.

The post of prime minister must go to a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian system. Adib’s candidacy won vital political backing on Sunday from former prime ministers including Saad Al-Hariri, who heads the biggest Sunni party, the Future Movement.

President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, is due to meet parliamentary blocs on Monday in the official consultations to designate the new premier. He is required to nominate the candidate with biggest level of support among MPs.

Lebanon’s dominant Shiite parties, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, will both name Adib at the consultations, a senior Shiite source said.

The Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a political ally of Hezbollah which was founded by Aoun and is led today by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, will do the same, Bassil told Reuters.

Once designated, the process of forming a new government will get underway. Until a new administration is agreed, the Diab government continues in a caretaker capacity.

Lebanon’s financial crisis has sunk the currency by as much as 80% since October, locked savers out their deposits in a paralyzed banking system and fueled poverty and unemployment.

Lebanon launched talks with the International Monetary Fund in May, after defaulting on its huge debt, aiming to secure financial support but these have stalled amid divisions on the Lebanese side over the scale of losses in the financial system. 


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.