Mustapha Adib (C) visits Beirut's badly-hit Gemmayzeh neighbourhood on Monday. AFP
Lebanon's under-fire leaders on Monday designated a new prime minister, diplomat Mustapha Adib, to tackle the country's deep political and economic crisis, hours before French President Emmanuel Macron was due to visit.
Mustapha Adib, 48, Lebanon's former envoy to Germany, gave a televised speech acknowledging the "need to form a government in record time and to begin implementing reforms immediately."
He vowed to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance as Lebanon faces its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war and was traumatised by Beirut's deadly August 4 explosion.
Adib, who has a doctorate in law and political science, later visited areas hardest hit by the port explosion that killed some 190 people and injured 6,500. "Our children died. We don't recognise you," a passerby shouted at him as he inspected the shattered neighbourhoods. Another offered to shake hands with Adib, who wore a facemask as Lebanon battles COVID-19.
"I want your trust," an AFP correspondent heard him tell a resident of Beirut's badly-hit Gemmayzeh neighbourhood.
Macron, who had toured the area two days after the disaster, was due to return later on Tuesday and was expected to renew his calls for a radical overhaul of the country's complex, sectarian political system.
Macron had demanded "deep change" and warned then he would check on progress when he returned for the Sept.1 centenary of Greater Lebanon, expected to be a glum commemoration.
On the eve of the event, many citizens were planning to leave the country and asked whether Lebanon would live to be 101.
President Michel Aoun and his political ally, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, on Sunday both expressed willingness to change the way Lebanon is governed.
The 85-year-old Aoun, a hate figure to Lebanon's large protest camp, which regards him as deaf to calls for change, even urged the proclamation of a secular state.
Under Lebanon's political system, the premier must be a Sunni, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian and the post of parliamentary speaker goes to a Shiite.Protesters shout slogans against government in Beirut.
Speaker Nabih Berri, also reviled by demonstrators, followed suit on Monday by urging change to the country's confessional political system, which he labelled "the cause of all ills."
Suspicion was rife that Lebanon's long-serving political heavyweights were only paying lip service to reform ahead of Macron's visit.
"When the political class talks about the introduction of the civil state, it reminds me of the devil talking about virtue, it doesn't make sense," said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut.
"There is a big difference between raising a slogan and really putting it to work."
Adib's designation "will not usher in a new period in Lebanese history and I don't think it will put Lebanon on the road of genuine political development."
The IMF in a statement on Monday voiced "hope that a new government will be formed shortly with a mandate to implement the policies and reforms that Lebanon needs to address the current crisis."
'Man of the system'
Adib emerged as a consensus option on Sunday and was named premier the next day in a statement by the presidency.
The close aide to former prime minister Najib Mikati received backing from the country's top political parties.
Lebanon's last government, headed by Hassan Diab, resigned after the massive explosion, which revived calls at home and abroad for radical revamp of the state.
The blast, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, killed at least 188 people, wounded thousands, laid waste to large parts of the capital and compounded Lebanon's economic woes.
It caused up to $4.6 billion worth of physical damage and a blow to economic activity of up to $3.5 billion, according to a World Bank assessment.
Mustapha Adib (C) visits Beirut's badly-hit Gemmayzeh neighbourhood. AFP
Caused by a vast stockpile of ammonium nitrate that had languished at Beirut's port for years until it was ignited by a nearby fire, the blast was widely blamed on government incompetence and greed.
Those who have taken to the streets in mass protests since Oct.17 against the entire political class had already rejected any name that might emerge from the parliamentary consultations.
Adib, already dismissed by demonstrators as a product of Lebanon's reviled sectarian-based politics, faces the daunting task of steering the state through one of the deepest crises of its troubled 100-year history.
Despite promises of change, the process for forming the new government follows the same blueprint that has chronically mired Lebanon in political deadlock.
Social media was flooded with posts questioning whether a government formed by Adib would be any more effective than Diab's, which was formed in January but failed to lift the country out of crisis.
Nadim Houry of the Arab Reform Initiative said Adib was "part of the professional advisors class that orbit around Lebanon's oligarchs." "He is a man of the system," he said.
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