Lebanon's Foreign Minister resigns amidst severe economic crisis

Nassif Hitti has resigned and warned that the country is in danger of being "a failed state"
Lebanon's foreign minister announced his resignation on 3 August 2020 due to the government's mishandling of the country's worst crisis in decades

AFP/MUHAMMAD HAMED  -   Lebanon's foreign minister announced his resignation on 3 August 2020 due to the government's mishandling of the country's worst crisis in decades

Nassif Hitti is the prime minister of the Lebanese government who is resigning in the midst of the serious economic and financial crisis that is sweeping the country. His resignation is a severe blow to Hassan Diab's government, which is unable to adopt the reforms expected by the international community to overcome the deep economic crisis the country is experiencing, in a context of rapid inflationary spiral and increased unemployment and poverty, aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic.

This Monday, in a context of disagreements with the government, Hitti handed in his resignation to the prime minister and left the government house without comment. Later, he issued strong statements explaining his resignation, stating that the Executive had failed to manage the crisis and implement the necessary reforms to save the country. He warned that the country's financial crisis and its lack of political will to change could represent the greatest threat to the nation since its civil war. 

Hitti presented his resignation in person to Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is presiding over a composite executive at the end of January, several months after Saad Hariri's resignation, after two weeks of massive protests against his government throughout the country. Earlier this year, protesters had demanded political and economic reform in a country beset by endemic corruption and sectarian power. The citizens of Lebanon have expressed concern about rapidly rising inflation and declining standards of living in their nation, exacerbated in recent months by the coronavirus pandemic and several clashes between Amal and Hezbollah supporters in the centre of the capital. 

This resignation comes a week after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian travelled to Lebanon, where he criticised the "passivity" of the authorities and called on them to push through long-awaited reforms. The local media said he was also irritated by Diab's criticism of the French foreign minister himself after his visit to Beirut last month. Diab said that Le Drian "had brought nothing new" and that he was not well informed about the reforms implemented by the Lebanese government.

"I participated in this government to work for a boss called Lebanon," Hitti said in a statement, "then I found in my country multiple bosses and contradictory interests. "If they do not unite to rescue the Lebanese people, God forbid, the ship will sink with everyone on it," he stressed.

For several months now, Lebanon has been suffering from an unprecedented devaluation of its currency, a rise in prices, massive layoffs and banking restrictions that aggravate the economic situation in a country with 35% unemployment. 

Nassif Hitti, 67, had been in office for less than seven months, and his departure after such a short time reflects the frictions paralysing the Government. "Lebanon today is becoming a failed state," Hitti said in a statement. His resignation is due to "the absence of a vision for Lebanon ... and the absence of an effective will to achieve comprehensive structural reform". 

The prime minister said during a televised speech that the country would not pay a $1.2 billion Eurobond because of the economic crisis facing the Middle Eastern country, which has pushed its foreign reserves to critical levels.

A total collapse in Lebanon could trigger new flows of refugees to Europe and add even more confusion to the arc of instability spreading from Syria through Iraq, with negative implications for the region's allies. 

"After careful and honest reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot fulfill my duties under these historical circumstances," Hitti said. He also noted that he had decided to resign "because of the lack of vision for Lebanon ... and the absence of an effective will to achieve comprehensive structural reform.

Nassif Hitti's resignation comes at a time when foreign donors have demanded reforms before committing any aid to Beirut.