Lebanon's PM-designate, named as part of French initiative to save the country, steps down

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Beirut, Lebanon (CNN)Lebanon's PM-designate Mustapha Adib, who was set to take the helm of a rescue government, has stepped down after failing to break a political stalemate over the formation of a new cabinet.

Adib was named as part of a diplomatic initiative by French President Emmanuel Macron to broker a political resolution in the crisis-ridden country and stave off state collapse in the wake of Beirut's August 4 explosion.

That government was set to oversee a series of reforms that would unlock pledged international donations to Lebanon, and pave the way to an aid conference Macron said he would schedule for late October. In an interview with Politico on September 1, he said his initiative marked the political elite's "last chance" to save the political system.

Lebanon financial reserves are quickly drying up as it faces one of the worst financial crises in decades. During a press conference this week, President Michel Aoun said the country would "go to hell" if talks over the government's formation failed. He raised the specter of total bankruptcy and said the main sticking point of the negotiations centered on Iran-backed Hezbollah and its main Shia ally Amal's insistence on naming the next finance minister.

Lebanon's ruling elite have been mired in political deadlock since late October 2019 when a popular uprising demanded the downfall of the country's confessional power-sharing system and toppled the government of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.

French President Emmanuel Macron meets former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (L) at the Pine Residence, the official residence of the French ambassador to Lebanon, in Beirut, on August 31, 2020.

Over the last 11 months, the country's currency has lost around 80% of its value, poverty has soared to over 50% and unrest on the streets has been rampant. An explosion that ripped through the capital last month and killed nearly 200 people deepened the country's crisis, and has prompted an exodus of young talent.

"Lebanon desperately needs a new cabinet because without it it's not going to be able to get the foreign economic assistance that would rescue the country from the brink of the abyss," said Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House. "This should be a huge incentive for Lebanon's politicians to try to find a compromise to form a new cabinet. And yet they continue to prioritize their own interests ahead of the national interest.

"It is headed towards a failed state scenario," added Khatib.

Macron's initiative to revive the political process saw some success in August. The ruling elite quickly came together to name Adib as the successor of caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose cabinet was toppled after the Beirut explosion.

But the formation appeared to stall after US President Donald Trump's administration imposed sanctions on two key Hezbollah allies earlier this month, marking the first time the US has penalized the group's coalition partners. Hezbollah and Amal -- known locally as the Shia duo -- doubled down on their demands for the next cabinet, defying Washington's apparent aim of causing a fissure in the armed group's alliances.

The tiny eastern Mediterranean country is also in the throes of a rapid coronavirus outbreak, with its healthcare sector on the verge of "becoming overwhelmed," according to healthcare workers.

The government has so far resisted calls for a new lockdown fearing further economic pain and unrest.

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