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Democratic Senators urge government formation in Lebanon

Four Democratic Senators met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and will later head to Israel.
Senator Chris Murphy, D-CT, speaks during a hearing with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee to examine the nomination of Miguel A. Cardona,to be Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC on Feb. 3, 2021.

A group of Democratic senators pressured Lebanese politicians on Wednesday to form a Cabinet amid the worsening economic crisis. 

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said “progress” is being made in the year-long process to assemble a cabinet. 

“Really good progress from our meetings in Lebanon today. Lots of movement toward the formation of a new government,” said Murphy in a tweet. 

Murphy, along with Sens. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Richard Blumenthal also of Connecticut, arrived in Beirut Tuesday. The group will also travel to Israel and the West Bank, and then Murphy and Ossoff will head to Tunisia and Greece, according to a release from Murphy’s office. 

Lebanon has had a caretaker government since August of last year when the Cabinet of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned en masse following the Beirut port explosion. Efforts to form a new Cabinet have thus far failed, and Diab remains in office, despite popular anger and international pressure.  

The lack of a Cabinet coincides with a worsening economic crisis in the country. There is a major shortage of fuel, and Lebanese spend hours waiting at gas stations to fill up only parts of their tanks. Most of the country is without electricity for the vast majority of the day. Job losses are up, and the explosion and the COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the situation. The crisis began in 2019, and the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value since then. Capital controls also mean many Lebanese are unable to withdraw their savings from banks. 

The United States and France in particular want a new cabinet to implement governance and anti-corruption reforms before promising more aid. 

Protests against the harrowing situation have occurred throughout the country recently. 

Murphy said Lebanese President Michel Aoun is confident a new cabinet will be proposed this week. 

“President Aoun told us he was confident a cabinet would be named this week,” said Murphy in the tweet. 

The senator also criticized Lebanese politicians for their failure to make a political deal and address the crisis. 

“It is inexcusable that in the middle of this life-threatening crisis, the political leaders in Lebanon have refused to make the tough choices in order to form a government,” he told reporters

Democrats in the House of Representatives also called on the Biden administration to further assist Lebanon with its crisis back in May. 

Van Hollen remarked that the Lebanese Armed Forces have been an "institutional success story" and that it is important "to support them as the country works through this political challenge and the economic challenges it faces."

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