Hariri and The ‘Twists’ of Lebanese Politics

Published July 7th, 2021 - 05:42 GMT
What next for Hariri?
Saad Hariri may still try to firm a government (AFP file photo)

Saad Hariri should stop trying to form a Lebanese government and quit. He should return back to just becoming an MP or simply return to private life as the businessman billionaire par excellence. He has been trying to put a Cabinet together since October 2020 when he was appointed as Prime Minister-designate but with no luck because of the wayward way of the Lebanese political system that relies on patronage and sectarianism and basic bickering.

Mr Hariri must surely be admired for his tenacity and some would say his stubbornness to stay in the political field but he should also know when to quit rather just keeping going to fight another day, hoping to find ‘consensus’ around the corner or in the next hurdle for this is Lebanon.

So why the stubbornness? Well, maybe it is to do with the Lebanese political system that is based on a division between the religious sects; the Christians have the post of president, the Sunnis the post of prime minister and as for the Shias, they are guaranteed the position of speaker in the Lebanese Parliament.

But Hariri has held the post of Prime Minister three times. And hence many would say his appetite for more political tinkering at the top is just amazing! However, all this is would have been very well if it hadn’t been for Michael Aoun, the president of Lebanon and his Free Patriotic Movement that is controlled by Gibran Bassil who happens to be Aoun’s son-in-law.

Aoun and Bassil have made it crystal clear they don’t want to see Hariri as prime minister or maybe, the situation is more complicated than that, for Aoun would be willing to live with Hariri at the top as premier but he wants more “political booty” that is he wants greater share of the ministerial portfolios for his party and his Islamic Shia allies, namely Hizbollah; one of the funny quirks of Lebanese politics.

It gets more complicated than that, but it is basically why Aoun, in the end, stated he wouldn’t want to work with Hariri because of his stubbornness of choice. Bassil on the other hand, has a different temperament. Outwardly, he would be willing to work with Hariri but wouldn’t want a ministerial portfolio under him despite the fact that in past governments, he served as Lebanon’s foreign minister, a prestigious portfolio for a major Christian party.

Hariri, ever since October 2020 when he was appointed as premier-designate sought to put together a technocratic government of experts but this also hit a brick wall supported by Aoun and Basil. They felt this wouldn’t be in the interests of Hizbollah who wanted their own men in cabinet and these wouldn’t necessarily be ‘technocratic’ by the standards of the party nor by Hariri’s aspirations who never sought the Shia politicians as his allies despite their Islamic commonalities.

There was also one more snag with Aoun; he wanted to appoint to additional Christian ministers in the new cabinet to beef up his support in government and make sure he would get his way. This proved to be another nail in the coffin of government, for Hariri saw this as a no-go-area and his prerogative as premier, and that is why the two are knocking heads together.

Lebanese politics tends to have a mind of its own regardless of the terrible things that are going around it. A change in government was triggered by the resignation of Hassan Diab after the Beirut Port Blast in 4 August 2020, and which killed over 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed whole streets and neighborhoods. The blast was a nightmare and torpedoed back in time for many years. It was felt, he couldn’t continue to lead the country after the explosive mess it was subjected to.

But while Hariri today, continues his Herculean task of forming a government, Diab continues as a caretaker prime minister enjoying all the trappings of the positions but says, he is unable to do much because of the lack of constitutional mandate of seeking to form a government.

Meanwhile Lebanon is in political, economic and social deadlock with one crisis after the other. Its Covid-19 pandemic which it was hit with just like other countries in the world, was the first among the countries and quickly become compounded with a fiscal and economic crisis as well as lire currency deep slump that saw its monetary value becoming practically worthless among the dollar with over half of the population under the poverty line and with the middle class quickly diminishing.

This aspect deteriorated further as international donors expressed their refusal to help Lebanon in its hour of needs with no external aid coming to the country basically because of the rejection of local politicians to form a government which many western leaders like Emmanuel Macron of France saw as an essential part to get the country back up and moving again.

On the face of it, the solution seems easy: Just agree to forming a government and unlocking the doors to badly foreign investments but this wasn’t to be the case no doubt because of the complexities and strenuous nature of Lebanese politics that doesn’t look at the big picture and only interested in its parochial aspects where national interests are dictated by something far more local and ethnic and with alliances beyond the nation-state.

Thus Lebanon is back to Square One, unable to get back its house in order but ready to engage in a long simmering fight.  Can a government be formed after eight months of trepidations or will things need to get much worse before somebody realizes that the political game must end.


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