Lebanon: the endless stalemate – World – Al-Ahram Weekly
Over time, a successful conclusion to the process of forming the Lebanese government seems increasingly implausible. Sunni Prime Minister-designate Saad Al-Hariri and President Michel Aoun, a strong ally of Shiite Hezbollah, are apparently unable to overcome their disagreements.
On Saturday, Hariri accused Aoun of preventing the formation of a government that does not reflect his interests and demands. “For seven months, we gave the [prime minister]- designate an impossible task: either the government is formed as the president’s political team wants, embodying the will of his excellence even though he claims to have no demands, or there is no government ”, Hariri wrote on Twitter.
The Sunni leader of Lebanon also told the Lebanese parliament that “I will not form a government as the team of his excellence wishes the president, nor any other political faction. I will only form the kind of government necessary to prevent the collapse and end the great crash that threatens the Lebanese people.
This is not the first time that Hariri has spoken out publicly on the political impasse. Two months ago, he walked out of a meeting with Aoun and told reporters – who were waiting for him outside – that the latter wanted him to approve a pre-established list of ministers.
Hariri then described the move as unconstitutional. The prime minister designate – also the son of former prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri and former head of government himself – wants a technocratic government that includes ministers who are not affiliated with any political faction in Lebanon. He continues to accuse Aoun of seeking to control a third of government seats, a situation that would allow the president to block decisions he might not like.
But Aoun seems to have understood – apparently because of the weather – that this kind of political pressure will not lead to an agreement on a new government in Lebanon. For example, on March 17, Aoun said: “If Prime Minister-designate Hariri finds himself unable to form a government, he should give way to those who are … My appeal is determined and truthful to the Prime Minister-designate to immediately choose one of the two choices, because silence is not an option after today, ”Aoun said in a televised speech.
He then dismissed Hariri’s accusations of blocking consensus on the new cabinet. “There is no use in all of these positions and in the shifting of blame if the country collapses and people become prisoners of desperation and frustration,” he said. “There is no escape for them, but anger. Everything is calming down in the face of the suffering of the people, who have reached levels they cannot bear. “
Aoun told parliament in mid-May that Hariri could not form a government. This message came in a letter that Hariri himself did not like. Hariri told parliament – in the same session in which this letter was read publicly – that Aoun implicitly tells lawmakers that “you appointed this prime minister, I don’t want him, go ahead and get rid of him. “
This situation arguably caused some embarrassment for Aoun, whose allies quickly denied Hariri’s accusations. Nabih Berri, speaker of parliament and also a key ally of Hezbollah, called on Hariri to quickly form the government and cooperate with Aoun to help stabilize Lebanon.
Gebral Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, a former senior diplomat and leader of Lebanon’s Free Christian Patriotic Movement (FPM), said Aoun did not want to remove Hariri from office.
This is not the first time that Hariri has faced difficult times negotiating a new government with Hezbollah and its political allies. In October 2019, he resigned his post as prime minister after reaching a “dead end” amid the wave of “everything means everything” protests against all political forces in Lebanon.
At that time, Hariri was trying to form a new government and carry out comprehensive reforms to reduce public anger amid severe social and economic deterioration. But a political agreement was not reached.
The ongoing political crisis in Lebanon began last October when Hariri was appointed prime minister-designate to replace interim prime minister Hasssan Diab following the explosion at the port of Beirut. The explosion in the port left 200 dead and 6,000 injured. Around 300,000 people have lost their homes and the Lebanese government is unable to meet its financial commitments or rebuild damaged areas.
It needs around $ 10 billion to $ 15 billion to undertake the reconstruction. But a donor conference hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron raised just € 253 million ($ 298 million) in humanitarian aid. Most world leaders are reluctant to send money to Lebanon until a new government is in place. This resulted in a huge economic crisis which, along with the Covid-19 pandemic, sparked poverty-related protests and a huge drop in the exchange rate.
France, a key mediator of the political crisis in Lebanon from the start, recently imposed sanctions on Lebanese officials which “hinder the way out of the crisis and we will do so in coordination with our international partners”.
Karim Makdisi, associate professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, told Al-Ahram Weekly “we are all hoping for a breakthrough.” Still, he wasn’t overly optimistic about the expected outcome.
“While we all hope that a breakthrough will come, I doubt that France will meet with the approval of other regional actors who are helping to block the political movement in Lebanon (in addition, of course, to the despicable lack of common decency and the sheer criminal negligence of our politicians.) as part of a bizarre attempt to punish all Lebanese for the very existence of Hezbollah (and Aoun), ”Makdisi concluded.
* A version of this article appears in the May 27, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly