It is difficult to immediately assess the impact of Nassif Hitti's resignation on the future of the cabinet, or whether this resignation could lead to others. What is certain, however, is that it further undermines what is left of credibility for a ministerial team whose action appears in-consistent, even incomprehensible. Marriages were authorized by one ministry and prohibited by another. Successive promises to restore electricity took three weeks to be kept, and the re-curring garbage crisis has been sorted out each time only on a temporary basis.
The departure of one of the cabinet's most respected members, who is known for his profes-sionalism, independence and career, shows that there is no longer much room for independents in this cabinet. The thin veil that maintained the illusion of a team of technocrats who could stand up to the political class is about to be fully lifted.
The proof is that Hitti, who was chosen by Prime Minister Hassan Diab some six months ago, was replaced on the same day, at lightning speed, by another diplomat close to President Michel Aoun and whose name had been put forward from the very beginning of the cabinet formation process.
Damianos Kattar Promptly Rejected
According to our political correspondent Philippe Abi Akl, the prime minister would have pre-ferred the man he considers his Christian alter ego, Environment Minister Damianos Kattar, to be acting foreign minister. But Kattar, who was systematically ruled out for the post by Gebran Bassil during the cabinet formation process, encountered a categorical "no" from the head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) regarding his assumption of the post on interim basis.
According to our correspondent, three sets of reasons - administrative, diplomatic and political - must have pushed Hitti, aware that the cabinet will not be able to cope with the storms that are brewing, to abandon the Titanic before it sinks and to judge harshly the cabinet perfor-mance.
On the administrative level, Hitti landed in a ministry that Bassil held and still holds all the workings. Among the things that irritated him the most, our correspondent Mounir Rabih said, is the fact that he could not make any diplomatic appointments. Bassil insisted on imposing Hadi Hashem, his chief of staff during his tenure at the ministry, as successor to Lebanon's am-bassador to Washington Gaby Issa, who had come to the end of his career.
Everywhere Except at the Ministry
On the diplomatic front, Hitti quickly realized that Lebanon's foreign policy was being made everywhere except at the Foreign Ministry. To work on the issue of openness to Gulf states, which are boycotting the prime minister, he had to accept, hurt and humiliated, that the head of state preferred to him the director general of Public Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim. After the visit to Lebanon by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, a clumsy and almost beginner prime minister inflicted the worst insult on the man, discrediting the visit of the rep-resentative of one of the few countries that have not yet despaired of Lebanon and continue to treat it with friendliness.
Finally, on the political level, Hitti, a career diplomat who has long been stationed in the French capital, has proved to be resistant to any policy of axes, and has therefore been unable to adapt to the polarization under which Lebanon is languishing and collapsing, a few months before the US presidential election in November.
In addition, Abi Akl said, Hitti was anticipating two issues, the verdict of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (August 7) and the renewal without change of mandate for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at the end of the month. With respect to the first issue, Hitti was aware that the cabinet does not have a unified position, and that a position would be sought from the For-eign Ministry, if only diplomatically. For the renewal of the mandate of the UNIFIL, he feared that he would not have his hands free to plead for it.
"Noting that he was failing to add value to Lebanon's foreign policy, completely marginalized by the ruling class, burdened with reproaches by the chorus of Hezbollah flatterers, and finally not-ing that on the reform issue, the cabinet is making progress at a turtle's pace, Hitti has chosen to leave the cabinet with dignity, knowing well that Lebanon is moving towards crucial dead-lines while he has not the means to face them," said a keen observer of the political scene. For the record, it was ironic that many more personalities congratulated Hitti for resigning than those who applauded his appointment.
Finally, it is important to decipher the text in which the outgoing foreign minister himself gave the reasons for his resignation."His text is good; it's clear," former Culture Minister Tarek Mitri said. "He expressed his concerns. He fears that Lebanon may become a failed state. That's a key phrase. He says he doesn't recognize his Lebanon in the country that is now before his eyes. In six months, Nassif Hitti has found that it's impossible for him to be the foreign minister he dreamed of being: a man of openness in an open country, a country of non-alignment, a coun-try faithful to its traditional friendships, a country that desperately needs to rebuild its credibil-ity after its economic and financial collapse, a country that persists in the emptiness around it."
Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm deplored Hitti's resignation, while fully understanding the reasons behind such a move. "His resignation doesn't bother those who don't want things to change," Najm said. "On the eve of the Banque du Liban audit, a battle that concerns us all and of which we have no certainty that it will succeed, I find it unfortunate that Nassif Hitti re-signed." She added that she believed that "under the guise of political conflicts, there are very large private conflicts of interest that are taking place."
But now it is a fact: after looking carefully, having found no "clear vision," no "sincere inten-tions," no "culture of institutions, no sovereignty, no desire to build a "rule of law," or a sincere desire to make reforms, the foreign minister decided to slam the door.
(This article was originally pubished in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 4th of August)
It is difficult to immediately assess the impact of Nassif Hitti's resignation on the future of the cabinet, or whether this resignation could lead to others. What is certain, however, is that it further undermines what is left of credibility for a ministerial team whose action appears in-consistent, even incomprehensible. Marriages were authorized by one ministry and prohibited by...