The political heir of the Lebanese president tries to increase his influence by choosing the UN envoy

Supporters of Lebanese President Michel Aoun have successfully positioned his political ally as the favorite for the highly political post of UN envoy to New York, diplomats have said. The National Monday.

Hadi Hashem, 46, is tipped for the post traditionally assigned to a Sunni Muslim.

He served as chief of staff to Gebran Bassil, son-in-law and political party leader of Maronite Christian Mr. Aoun, during his 2014-20 tenure as foreign minister.

Mr Bassil is widely seen as Mr Aoun’s political heir.

The development is a major setback for leaders of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim community, whose fortunes have already been hit hard by the retirement from politics of its de facto leader Saad Hariri in January, four months before a hotly contested legislative election.

Political analyst Imad Salamey said The National that he expected a decline in Sunni power in state positions in the coming years “as the shift in favor of the Shia and their allies is expected to grow”.

Lebanon’s council of ministers is expected to renew the terms of around half of the country’s ambassadors abroad on Wednesday, including influential posts as permanent representative to the UN, and the US ambassador told two sources at the ministry. of Foreign Affairs who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject.

It remains uncertain whether the appointments will take place this week as the government must “have the final package”, one of the sources said. “They need to have names for every vacancy,” which total about 30, they said.

But the candidates are keen for the appointments to take place because they risk being suspended for several years if they are not made before the legislative elections scheduled for May 15. There is an additional incentive to be posted abroad: salaries are paid in dollars while diplomats in Beirut are paid in the largely devalued local currency.

Hezbollah influence

An Iran-backed Hezbollah ally, Mr. Bassil was included in US sanctions in 2020, on corruption charges. Mr Hashem remained in his role as chief of staff under two of Mr Bassil’s successors, Nassif Hitti and Charbel Wehbe, who quit in May after angering Gulf allies with derogatory comments.

Mr. Hashem’s likely appointment to New York has been portrayed in the media as an indication of the influence of Hezbollah, which the United States has labeled a terrorist group.

But a Foreign Office source dismissed the claims despite Mr. Hashem’s closeness to Mr. Bassil. “It’s internal competitors trying to bring it down,” they said. “He is a career diplomat with 20 years of experience.”

Mr Hashem would replace the first Lebanese woman to represent Lebanon at the UN, Amal Mudallali, who was appointed in 2017 and has spoken openly about her closeness to the Hariri family in local media.

If confirmed, Mr. Hashem’s appointment would not be the first time that Mr. Bassil has acted to secure his influence within Lebanese embassies, political scientist Karim El Mufti said.

“He already managed to get another close adviser, Rami Adwan, to be appointed as Lebanon’s ambassador to France a few years ago,” El Mufti said.

Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany, Mustapha Adib, 50, is likely to become the country’s next ambassador to the United States in Washington, sources said. In August 2020, Mr Adib was chosen to be Lebanon’s prime minister after a devastating explosion in the port of Beirut, but he resigned less than a month later amid political wrangling.

A university professor, Mr. Adib is a former adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is a Sunni Muslim according to Lebanon’s sectarian political system. He would replace a close adviser to Mr. Aoun in Washington, Gaby Issa.

These choices signal a “barter” between Maronites and Sunnis in favor of the former, a reflection of the power struggles between Lebanese sectarian political parties, indicated a second source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “New York is more interesting diplomatically than Washington because it provides access to international networks,” they said. The National.

This is yet another glaring example of the politicization of the Lebanese diplomatic corps

Karim Bitar, professor at Saint Joseph University

The change would be a serious attempt by Mr. Bassil “to regain control of the diplomatic wheel and the foreign policy narrative, at the heart of the UN’s multilateral forums”, Mr. El Mufti said.

Ambassador to Washington is also a prestigious post. The United States is a key ally of Lebanon, which is the fifth largest recipient of US military aid.

“Regardless of the personal qualities of the candidates, this is yet another glaring example of the politicization of the Lebanese diplomatic corps,” said Karim Bitar, a professor at Saint Joseph University.

“Every Lebanese leader tries to place someone directly loyal to them in the most sensitive embassies to maximize their international network in the context of the upcoming strategic elections.”

Despite better working conditions for diplomats abroad, difficulties are mounting. They have not been paid for two months and they expect Mr. Aoun to give the green light to a pay cut of around 30%.

For those living in expensive cities in the United States and Europe, the situation is becoming “critical”, the second source said. “Diplomats have to pay for their own health insurance, rent and children’s education,” they said. “Europe will no longer be attractive, except for those who are already well off.

Updated: April 05, 2022, 08:19

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