BEIRUT — Former Lebanese Finance Minister Jihad Azour — who, until the end of last week, held the position of Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — officially announced his candidacy for the Lebanese presidency on Monday.
In a statement, he declared that his candidacy, supported by a collection of parties opposed to the candidacy of Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh, "is a challenge to no one."
Since the announcement by various opposition parties and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM, Aounist) of their support for Azour, several leaders within Hezbollah, which supports Frangieh, have described the former minister's candidacy as one "of challenge and confrontation."
Azour, who stepped down from his position at the IMF on Friday, made his announcement two days before a parliamentary presidential election session, scheduled for 11 a.m. on Wednesday.
None of the previous 11 presidential sessions held between September 2022 and January 2023 resulted in the election of a new head of state. Lebanon has been without a president since October 31, 2022, in the midst of a serious socio-economic and financial crisis.
‘Not the descendant of an old political family’
In a context of "severe political divisions," Azour said he hoped his candidacy "would not be the lowest common denominator between the positions and projects of different political forces, but rather the highest common denominator between the dreams of Lebanese men and women, in a nation that we all deserve, that is sovereign, free, independent and prosperous, in which we can re-establish the Lebanese experience threatened with extinction."
Azour asserted that he is "neither the descendant of an old political family," in a country where it is not uncommon for political positions to be passed down within the same family, nor "the son of a partisan experiment" or "the champion of a specific sect."
His statement stressed that his only goal is to restore a prosperous Lebanon by implementing "all the necessary reforms" to offer the younger generations a future, rather than the "despair" that has led to "one of the most dangerous waves of migration the country has ever seen."
A desire for change
Azour also said he hoped that his candidacy will be "a sign of hope, not a reason for fear and a new element in the crisis."
"My candidacy is a call for unity," added the former minister. Lebanon's problems cannot "resolve themselves or disappear simply because we ignore them or wish them away."
Referring to his experience at the IMF, he noted "the enormous capacity of countries on the verge of collapse to recover, when the right strategies are put in place and there is a real willingness to change, not slogans and populism."
Azour further asserted that, on a geopolitical level, it was necessary to face "the complexities, putting the interest of Lebanon and the Lebanese first, before any other interest."
"I understand that we don't live in a strategic and regional vacuum, but I don't think Lebanon is a stage for regional enmities and tug-of-war," the statement added
Reacting to the many "statements about fears of isolation projects" in the pipeline — an allusion to the rhetoric regularly employed by Hezbollah — Azour asserted that, "while some resort to these "delusions and speeches of intimidation, our entire country has isolated itself from reconciliations, rapprochements and modernization in the region."
The Shia party regularly accuses part of the international community of imposing an aid blockade and isolating the country, in order to defeat Hezbollah and its allies.
In his statement, Azour also said he "reached out to all political components and forces to engage in dialogue, in order to achieve the national consensus that Lebanon needs more than ever."
"I have only one mission, which is simple but enormous: to get the country out of the abnormal situation it finds itself in as quickly as possible, and to found a prosperous future," said Azour, adding that it is necessary to "invest in Lebanon's rich history of creativity and tolerance."
"To achieve this ambition, several elements are needed, and first and foremost total independence from outside interference," he insisted. Among other necessary factors, he cited the "total protection of the country's territories and sovereignty," the return to "the state and its institutions, and respect for the Constitution."
Calling on Lebanese men and women to support him in his drive to "restore Lebanon's glory and ensure a prosperous future for all," Azour said he hoped to become a "bridge to the future, to reconciliation and to guaranteeing coexistence based on cooperation and openness."