Saad Hariri, Who Quit Amid Lebanon Crises, Could Again Lead the Country

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Despite public outcry for change, Lebanese President Saad Hariri has tapped the embattled former prime minister who resigned due to anti-government protests late last year to try again to form a government.

Mr Hariri, who stepped down in multiple crises as the country faced economic collapse, won the mandate after receiving sufficient support from parliament on Thursday. President Michel Aoun asked Mr. Hariri to try to cobble together a government coalition, the presidency announced.

There is no guarantee that it will succeed. Lebanon continues to be in crisis, its economy in tatters as the country also grapples with the aftermath of an August 4th explosion in the port of Beirut that killed nearly 200 people and caused billions in damage entire districts were devastated.

Mr Hariri pledged to form a cabinet of experts and technocrats “apart from the political parties” that will undertake to undertake financial and economic overhauls to make the country viable and rebuild after the damage from the explosion.

“This is the only and last opportunity for our beloved country,” he said on Thursday in the presidential palace.

The return of Mr Hariri would represent the persistence of longstanding sectarian power brokers in Lebanon, even though the public wanted a change of leadership even before the explosion in Beirut, which reinforced these demands.

In addition to the death toll, the blast injured hundreds and left thousands homeless as it pierced much of the city. It was triggered by a fire that ignited 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used to make fertilizers and bombs, that had been stored unsafe in the port of Beirut since 2014, while some politicians were secretly arguing what to do about it.

Many officials had long warned behind the scenes that this was dangerous, although the debate never went public. And much of the country viewed the devastating explosion as the latest crisis resulting from poor governance.

After this outcry, the previous government resigned.

The explosion – the latest crisis in a dysfunctional system that was resolved by the time Mr Hariri stepped down in October – drew tens of thousands into the streets and called for an end to rampant corruption.

While Mr Hariri’s ability to form a government holds out little promise of saving the country from collapse, some Beirut residents say it is better to have a dysfunctional government than none.

Hussein Ayoub, a butcher who saw the news on television Thursday in his shop in western Beirut, appeared to have come to terms with the political outcome.

“Hariri won’t be the best option,” he said. “But I would say better to be half blind than fully blind. The land falls under hell. “

Hwaida Saad reported from Beirut, Lebanon, and Megan Specia from London. Kareem Chehayeb reported from Beirut.