Report: Hariri willing to return as Lebanese PM

Senior official says Saad Hariri is ready to return as prime minister of a new Lebanese government if certain conditions are met.

Elad Benari ,

Saad Hariri
Saad Hariri

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who announced his resignation on Tuesday, is ready to return as prime minister of a new Lebanese government if certain conditions are met, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing a senior official familiar with his thinking.

The new government would have to include technocrats and be able quickly implement reforms to stave off economic collapse, said the official.

The protests in Lebanon were initially started in response to what has become known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users. The tax was later scrapped but the protests have continued and have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilization against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.

Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.

Hariri’s resignation left a political vacuum at a moment of acute crisis, with reforms urgently needed to ward off even deeper financial problems in one of the world’s most heavily indebted states.

People took to the streets again late on Wednesday in some parts of Lebanon, including in Beirut and the northern Akkar region where the army clashed with protesters blocking a road, according to Reuters.

In announcing his resignation, Hariri said he had hit a “dead end” in trying to resolve the crisis.

The senior official, who declined to be identified, said on Wednesday that any new cabinet led by Hariri should not include a group of top-tier politicians who were in the outgoing coalition government, without naming them.

The cabinet comprised top representatives of most of Lebanon’s sectarian parties, among them foreign minister Gebran Bassil of the Christian Free Patriotic Movement, a prominent target of protesters.

Bassil is a political ally of the powerful Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which had opposed the government’s resignation and has yet to comment on the departure of Hariri, a long-time opponent of the group.

President Michel Aoun formally asked Hariri on Wednesday to continue in a caretaker role until a new cabinet is formed, as required by Lebanon’s system of government, according to Reuters.

There is no obvious alternative to Hariri as prime minister, a post reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system.

Hariri’s government was formed in February following a nine-month deadlock.

Hezbollah, which has a strong political presence in Lebanon, is a major part of Hariri’s cabinet, after the group and its allies gained more than half the seats of the 128-member Lebanese parliament in the election last May.