The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Lebanese prime minister-designate resigns after nine months of gridlock

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, center, arrives for a meeting with President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese government/AP)

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s prime minister-
designate, Saad Hariri, announced his resignation Thursday after nine months of political gridlock during which he failed to form a new government.

Hariri was named prime minister in late October, nearly three months after a port explosion ripped through the capital, Beirut, killing more than 200 people and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents. His predecessor, Hassan Diab, submitted his resignation a week after the Aug. 4 explosion, following a public uproar over official negligence that left more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port for six years.

In his resignation speech, Hariri cited disagreements with President Michel Aoun over forming a cabinet and alluded to a lack of trust between the two. “I suggested more time,” Hariri said in a statement, “but the president saw that there is no room for agreement, so I submitted my resignation from forming a government, and may Allah help the country.”

Lebanon is mired in an economic crisis, which has seen the value of the Lebanese pound plunge to a tenth of the official exchange rate against the dollar. On Thursday morning, the pound was trading at unofficial rates of about 19,700 to the dollar, and that number climbed to about 21,000 to the dollar immediately after Hariri’s announcement, further devaluing the currency.

For months, Hariri has been complaining that political gridlock is preventing him from naming cabinet members and has specifically blamed Aoun for demanding that ministerial posts be filled with people of his own choosing.

Aoun responded last month, accusing Hariri of obstructing the constitution and undermining the president’s powers in government formation. After Hariri’s resignation announcement Thursday, the presidential palace released a statement claiming Hariri was not ready to make any concessions.

The months-long blame game between the two sides, each leading a rival political party, has sparked increasing anger as quality of life has deteriorated. Gasoline lines extend for hours as fuel prices soar. Prices of food and other necessities creep up daily. People have been demanding a government be formed to take over from the caretaker government in place. Lebanon’s economic depression has been described by the World Bank as “likely to rank in the top 10, possibly top 3, most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century.”

In the hours after Hariri’s announcement, angry Lebanese closed down major highways around the country and streets in Beirut, burning tires in protest as news of the pound’s devaluation continued to trickle in.

Hariri previously resigned as prime minister in October 2019 after hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets to vent their anger at the deteriorating economic situation. Diab took over months later and resigned after the explosion in August. A relatively unknown ambassador was then named as prime minister-designate, only to resign shortly after.

Hariri’s announcement came three days after the European Union said it is seeking to increase pressure on Lebanon’s quibbling political leaders. An effort led by France is seeking to set a legal framework for a sanctions regime targeting politicians by the end of the month. France is a longtime backer of Hariri, who has been prime minister twice before and whose father was prime minister before he was assassinated in 2005.

Nader Durgham in Beirut and Suzan Haidamous in Washington contributed to this report.

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