Date:Wed, 2 Dec 2009 14:30:42 +0200
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Subject:Dayan Center, TEL AVIV NOTES - "Lebanon: New Government,
Editor: Bruce Maddy-Weitzman December 2, 2009
Lebanon: New Government, Old Problems
On November 10, 2009, five months after Lebanon,s parliamentary
elections, Sa`d al-Din al-Hariri, the son of the slain former Prime
Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and leader of the victorious "March 14"
anti-Syrian/anti-Hizballah coalition, succeeded in forming a new
government. However, the preceding period of complete political
paralysis provided a clear indication of the underlying difficulties
and challenges which continue to confront Lebanon.
The June 7, 2009 elections were contested by two rival camps, divided
over both questions of power and policy, and ultimately over their
competing visions for the country. Hariri, from the Sunni community,
was joined in the March 14 bloc by Walid Junblatt, the leader of the
Druze in Lebanon, and several prominent leaders of the Maronite
community. On the other side of the divide stood the "March 8 "
forces, headed by Hizballah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah,
accompanied by Nabih Berri, leader of the Shi`ite Amal movement, and
by the Maronite General Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic
Movement and Nasrallah's close ally since February 2006.
Four years previously, in Spring 2005, the March 14 Camp had been
victorious in parliamentary elections, enabling it to initiate a
genuine political about-face, the so-called "Cedar Revolution." The
main element of this shift was the freeing of Lebanon from the tight
grip which Syria had held over it for three decades, manifested by
the presence of 30,000 Syrian troops. Lebanon's new government aimed
to get the country back on its feet as an independent state, placing
its hopes on the support of the United States and France, as well as
the moderate Sunni Arab states, headed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. For
the March 14 bloc, the goal of the 2009 elections was to preserve its
gains from the previous elections and thus prove that its hold on
power was not simply a passing episode.
Public opinion polls conducted prior to the vote indicated that
Hizballah and its affiliated parties in the March 8 bloc would be
victorious. However, contrary to all the pre-election expectations
and assessments, the March 14 bloc came out on top by a small margin.
Hizballah leader Nasrallah quickly declared that he was prepared to
acknowledge his defeat and accept the results of the elections. At
the same time, he demanded that the victors accept Hizballah as an
equal partner in the government. In Nasrallah's view, this demand was
a requirement of the Lebanese political system: in his words, the
victors must forget that they won the elections. Furthermore,
Nasrallah stated that Hizballah would not give up its long-range aim
of bringing about a change in the rules of the political game in
Lebanon. Doing so would enable the organization to exploit the
demographic advantage of the Shi`ite community, which Hizballah
claimed to represent and which constitutes Lebanon's largest single
Sa`d al-Din al-Hariri understood Nasrallah's message. And so,
following the elections he worked to establish a national unity
government with representatives from Hizballah, the Amal movement,
and even representatives of Michel Aoun. Hariri was prepared to
accept most of Hizballah's conditions. These included, apart from the
question of the composition of the government and the distribution of
portfolios, the right to veto any governmental decision, even if this
prerogative was not granted formally or in writing. It goes without
saying that in order to form a new government, Hariri was prepared to
abandon any insistence on governmental control over Hizballah's
weapons or the disarming of the organization. By his very readiness
to have the organization join his government, he essentially granted
legitimacy, even if only indirectly and by implication, to its
continued militarization and ongoing smuggling of weapons and
ammunition in violation of U.N. Resolution 1701. This aspect of
Hariri's success in forming a new government was not lost on senior
officials in Israel. Hence, they made it clear that Israel would view
all of Lebanon as responsible for any escalation along the border
between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the concessions Hariri made to Hizballah were not enough
by themselves to clear the way for the establishment of a new
government in Beirut. This was because Hariri found himself immersed
in personal quarrels with Hizballah's ally, Aoun, over the allocation
of several portfolios. However, this difficulty, too, was finally overcome.
The composition of the new government, with its inclusion of
Hizballah ministers, makes it clear that the March 14 Camp's
electoral victory was only partial and short-term, merely one round
in an ongoing battle to determine Lebanon's future course. There are
even those who would argue that the March 14 bloc's electoral victory
was merely psychological, and nothing more. Indeed, a strong
indication of this was given several weeks after the elections. On
August 2, 2009, Walid Junblatt declared that he intended to end his
alliance with Hariri and hinted that he was prepared to join up with
Hizballah and improve his ties with Syria. Junblatt even stated that
the efforts to draw close to the U.S. were misguided and that the
interests of the Druze community obliged him to reevaluate his
policies, especially in light of the events of May 2008, when
Hizballah fighters temporarily took over West Beirut. Hariri also
began hinting that he too might be prepared to put aside his
hostility to Syria, whom he considered responsible for the murder of
his father, and open a new page in the relations between the two
countries. The implication was that Hariri would go back to serving
Syrian interests in Lebanon, as his father had done in the past.
Concurrently, Hariri's patron, Saudi Arabia, was showing a similar
readiness to become reconciled with Syria.
In sum, on the face of it, the 2009 elections signified a victory for
the March 14 Camp. Its holding action against Hizballah's attacks on
Lebanon's existing political order had produced tangible results.
Many observers also portrayed this victory as something of an
achievement for the moderate camp in the Middle East in its struggle
against the region's radical states. In light of this expectation, it
would be ironic indeed if it turns out that the elections were only a
prelude to Lebanon undergoing a process of renewed adherence to the
radical axis. The end result of such a process would surely be the
renewal of Syria's active role in the internal affairs of Lebanon and
the strengthening of Hizballah's influence in the corridors of power in Beirut.
A longer, and somewhat different version of this article was
published in bitterlemons-international.org
TEL AVIV NOTES is published with the support of the V. Sorell Foundation
Previous editions of TEL AVIV NOTES can be accessed at
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