Lebanese politics take a turn for the absurd
Lebanese politics tend to oscillate between tragic and absurd. With Saad Hariri’s announcement yesterday that he was stepping down from his position as Prime Minister-designate and abandoning attempts to form a national unity government, we are clearly in the realm of absurdity. Since his March 14 Alliance won a decisive victory in last June’s parliamentary ...
Lebanese politics tend to oscillate between tragic and absurd. With Saad Hariri’s announcement yesterday that he was stepping down from his position as Prime Minister-designate and abandoning attempts to form a national unity government, we are clearly in the realm of absurdity. Since his March 14 Alliance won a decisive victory in last June’s parliamentary elections, Hariri and his allies have been unable to agree to terms with the Hezbollah-led opposition over the composition of the new government.
In a true democracy, Hariri would now likely abandon his attempts to include the opposition in the national unity government and move forward with the composition of a cabinet composed solely of his parliamentary majority. But Hariri, along with his allies in Saudi Arabia and the United States, are leery of forming a partisan government set up in opposition to Hezbollah. As in 2008, such a move would risk a downward spiral of recrimination and violence, culminating in Hezbollah using its superior force to settle the matter. Hariri, prevented from even threatening to form a March 14-only government, has been robbed of the leverage that his parliamentary majority should give him in the negotiations over the form of the government.
While there is no shortage of sideshows in Lebanon, the fundamental issue remains that the country’s two poles, Saad Hariri and Hassan Nasrallah, have yet come to an agreement over the distribution of political power. Under Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Saad’s father, Hezbollah was willing to leave economic policy to Hariri in exchange for free reign to maintain its military, social and economic preeminence in South Lebanon.
But following the armed confrontation in May 2008, which pitted Hariri’s supporters against Hezbollah in Beirut, Hezbollah does not have sufficient confidence in Saad Hariri to give him the same latitude. If these two actors fail to reach a modus vivendi, Lebanese politics will likely swing once again from absurd to tragic.
David Kenner, a former editorial researcher at
, is an assistant researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
David Kenner was Middle East editor at Foreign Policy from 2013-2018.
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