Lebanon has appointed Charbel Wehbe as foreign minister after Nassif Hitti resigned from the position, saying the country risked becoming a “failed state” and the government showed a lack of reformist will.
“I participated in this government on the basis that I have one employer named Lebanon, and I found in my country many employers and conflicting interests,” Hitti said in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Hassan Diab, made public on Monday.
“If they don’t come together around the interests of the Lebanese people and save them, then the ship, God forbid, will sink with everyone on board.”
In his resignation letter, Hitti chided the “absence of a vision for Lebanon as I believe in it as a free, independent and capable nation” and the absence of a “real will to achieve structural reforms … which our national society asks for and the international community are calling on us to do”.
“Lebanon today is sliding towards becoming a failed state,” he wrote.
The letter also implicitly criticised Hezbollah, a major backer of Diab’s government, by calling for a need for Lebanon to strengthen its ties with the “Arab community” and be “radiant in its Arab environment”.
Lebanon’s formerly strong ties with Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, have been harmed by the growing role of the Iran-backed group in Lebanese politics and in regional conflicts, including the war In Yemen.
Hours after Hitti resigned, President Michel Aoun and Diab signed a decree appointing Charbel Wehbe as the new foreign minister.
Wehbe is a diplomatic affairs advisor to Aoun and was formerly the director of political affairs at the foreign ministry.
Blow to the government
Hitti’s resignation is the biggest blow yet to Diab’s six-month-old government, which has struggled to make good on promises that it would implement wide-ranging reforms following massive anti-establishment protests last year.
Though the veteran diplomat is the first member of Diab’s cabinet to quit, the government has already seen two high-profile resignations from a team negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. Both had cited the same lack of will to reform due to the interests of the country’s political-financial elite.
Last week, Hitti had expressed his frustration with the Diab government on a popular talk show, saying it was “draining my professional and diplomatic credit”.
Diab’s government has also faced repeated calls to resign. But he has defended staying in power by claiming a replacement would take a long time, which he said would amount to “a crime against the Lebanese [people]”.
Diplomatic spat with France
Hitti’s resignation follows a diplomatic mishap involving Diab and Lebanon’s strongest Western ally, France, after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Beirut last month.
A few days after the visit, a tweet from Diab’s official Twitter account said Le Drian brought “nothing new” and had a “lack of knowledge of the path of government reforms”.
“The international decision till now is not to help Lebanon,” he posted.
The tweet was later deleted. Diab also met a French embassy delegation and reportedly expressed his appreciation of France’s historical ties with Lebanon.
Hitti was picked by Gebran Bassil, the former foreign minister and head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which has the single-biggest bloc in parliament and was founded by President Michel Aoun.
Reports in local media have indicated that Hitti’s resignation was partially due to frustration over Bassil’s continued hold on key decisions at the ministry. Bassil was reportedly unhappy with Hitti’s decision to quit.
An FPM source told Al Jazeera that Hitti’s decision to step down was his own, regardless of the party’s position.
“He has his own reasons,” the source said. “His statement today was clear and shows that it had nothing to do with the talk that has come out.”