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 ...

581052_090911_hariri_picnik2.jpg
581052_090911_hariri_picnik2.jpg
WASHINGTON - JANUARY 27: Lebanese Member of Parliament Saad Hariri talks with the news media after meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush January 27, 2006 at the White House in Washington, DC. Hariri is the son of Rafik Hariri, the assassinated former Lebanese premiere, and is now the head of the Future bloc in parliament. Bush said that Lebanon should be free of foreign influence, Syrian intervention and free to chart its own course. Bush also said that the investigation into the assassinatoin of Hariri's father should go further and be firm. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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.

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
FP
, is an assistant researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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