Lebanon’s foreign minister has warned that his country faces becoming a failed state if the population doesn’t accept painful structural economic reforms.
Speaking exclusively to Sky News, ahead of a crucial vote of confidence in the government, Nassif Hitti said that he understood the frustrations of the people after months of protests across the country.
“We are very much aware of these very serious problems that the country is facing: an economic, financial crisis with strong social repercussions over time and definitely it could have political repercussions in terms of chaos or whatever could happen after.” Dr Hitti said.
“Imagine, God forbid, if we fall into a chaotic situation, what could happen, we have seen countries falling into that situation around us.” he said.
“It could be very dangerous for the future of the country. To become a failed state or a failing state. But we have strong confidence in ourselves from an extremely realistic perspective” he insisted.
“What we are saying is give us the time, short time, to start moving along the path of serious – and I underline serious – comprehensive reforms addressing different aspects and sectors of the Lebanese economy.” he said.
Dr Hitti, a former diplomat and academic, was appointed Foreign Minister two weeks ago. He is part of a new government made up largely of technocrats – an attempt to meet the demonstrators demands.
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However, protests have continued with many expressing dissatisfaction with the new government and its ability to solve the crisis.
The president, Michel Aoun, remains in place and although most of the ministers, including the Prime Minister Hassan Diab, are academics and not members of the political establishment, they were selected by the powerful political blocs including Hezbollah.
Image: A wall of concrete barriers has been erected to stop protesters from reaching the parliament building
Image: Foreign minister Nassif Hitti says Lebanon could become a ‘failed state’ unless its problems are solved
“I understand the frustration of the people; we are Lebanese, we live in that frustration in different ways I understand the legitimate demands for change and for major serious change.
“What we promise – and don’t buy our words at that – is to give us some time to start implementing what we call structural reforms and take the road of change.” Dr Hitti said.
Asked if he accepted the continued charge of corruption, he said: “There is a serious problem of image, of perception, in Lebanon. But I am not defending my colleague and myself. We are, all of us, in a way, experts in our own fields.”
“We are not part of the political establishment; the traditional political establishment.” he insisted. “We are not saying to presume that we are going to resolve all problems and I understand the frustration… but we need a bit of time to move along.”
As he and his cabinet colleagues tried to reach the parliament building for the vote of confidence in them, protesters tried to block them.
Image: Demonstrators are sprayed with water during a protest
A wall of concrete barriers has been erected in an attempt to stop the protesters from reaching the parliament building.
But Mr Hitti insisted that he and his colleagues are legitimate and must be allowed do carry out the reforms however painful they may be.
“It’s a very serious crisis, it’s a structural crisis and we don’t have much time to try to get out of the situation. We are very much aware of the dangers facing the country and of the necessity to act very clearly and with great resolve,” he said.
Western countries, aware of the problems a failed state in Lebanon could cause, have promised to offer financial support but only if leaders show genuine signs of implementing the reform that’s needed.
Asked if his country needed international support, Mr Hitti said: “Of course. We are of course very much interested in getting that kind of help.
“It’s the primary interests and objective of the Lebanese to stabilise their own country like it is the case for any country in the world but I think the true stability, general stability, structural stability of Lebanon also is a regional interest and an international interest.”
There is concern among western governments that organisations like Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organisation by the UK, the United States and others, now have even more influence on Lebanese politics.
“I could listen to any kind of accusation, with all due respect to the views of everybody. But I am not the government of Hezbollah or one particular party or I am not the government of pro-Iran or anybody else.” Mr Hitti said.
“It’s for those who are doing this accusation to come and provide the proof. Hezbollah is a Lebanese party. It represents a political component of Lebanese society.
It’s part of the government. I am responsible as the minister for foreign affairs to speak and explain and communicate the government position. We want to have the best of relations with the Arab countries… with all friendly countries.”
Source : Sky News