July 29, 2009

A New Government... For War?

It has been more than a month, since the March 14th coalition won the Lebanese parliamentary elections. The delay in the agreement on the government’s formation was expected, given Lebanon’s inherently polarized politico-sectarian system. Three years ago Hizbullah and Amal walked out on the government triggering a constitutional and legitimacy crisis for Beirut. The crisis, then and now, lies in the opposition’s understanding of the nature of Lebanese politics. Whilst the parliamentary majority felt it was natural that it would rule as any given majority would, the Hizbullah-led opposition (comprising various Christian, Druz and Sunni parties) bid to differ. Their line of reasoning holds that Lebanon’s splintered sects must be ruled by consensus rather than majority. The voters appear not to have responded enthusiastically to the latter proposition.

Three years ago, the opposition's fervent demands for what they termed the “guaranteeing third” of government ministries (enjoying veto power effectively) threw the country into an acute political crisis that lasted for two years. After the recent elections, similar demands were made of prime minister-elect Sa’d Al-Hariri. This time around, however, the opposition’s demands fell flat, as it took less than two months for Hariri to forge an agreement on the new government. Hizbullah has cleared the way for the new government to form, signaling its content with its prospective configuration.

The National reports that “according to political sources in Beirut and reports in the local media, the parties have agreed to a format that would give the majority 15 seats, the opposition a 10-seat portion and allow President Michel Suleiman, who is widely seen as an independent, five seats to prevent a plurality by the majority.” This arrangement would, in effect, award President Suleiman, known for his impartiality, veto power over government decisions. Speaker of the parliament, and head of Hizbullah-allied Amal movement, Nabih Berry affirmed the details would be hammered out in two days, and that “principally the government has been formed.”

Al-Akhbar and An-Nahar newspapers published lists of probable candidates for the ministerial positions in the new government.

The rapid political progress in Beirut is explained less by the appeal of the 15-10-5 formula to the opposition, and more by the menacing developments along the southern borders. The Likud government has tried to diplomatically capitalize on an explosion in a southern Lebanese village, which seemed to have been caused by stocked Hizbulla ammunition in a residential house. Tel Aviv asked for renegotiating the 1701 Security Council resolution governing the mandate of the United Nations Interim Forces In Lebanon (UNIFIL). After threatening that “Israel will not stand idly by,” Al Quds Al Arabi reports that four Mirkava tanks moved alarmingly close to the disputed borders, and that several Israeli jets violated Lebanese airspace flying over the Biqa’ Valley and Hassbia.

On his part, Nasrallah looked unshaken by the threats, as he issued his own. In a typical televised speech, Nasrallah warned that an Israeli attack on Hizbullah stronghold of Beirut’s Southern District (devastated during the last war), would induce retaliation against Israel’s biggest city of Tel Aviv. If Israel were to bomb Beirut, Hizbullah will attack surprising targets in Israel (possibly Israel’s nuclear reactors). Concerns over the eruption of a new war between Israel and Hizbullah are so serious that the meeting between Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, and US secretary of defense, Robert Gates, was clouded by discussions over the potential confrontation.

Hizbullah’s willingness to permit the Hariri government to form is an attempt to ensure a stable domestic front, should external development take an ugly turn.


Matt said...

Bigger question: What happens to Lebanon in a post-Suleiman government? Without another "independent minded" president, can the two sides in Lebanon continue to play nice?

I'm interested in what you think.

Yasser M. El-Shimy said...

If we wish to predict the post-Souleiman political situation in Lebanon, we could probably look back at the pre-Souleiman political situation. Lebanese presidents have historically proven to be indispensably instrumental to the maintenance of order in society as much as the mere functioning of government institutions. At this juncture, the only viable alternative to President Souleiman is former general, Michel Aoun, leader of the Maronite opposition's Free Patriotic Movement. His election is bound to be polarizing. Unless Lebanese parties change the ways they play politics (will not happen), Lebanon would enter another politicial crisis until an impartial candidate emerges who is credible enough to lead the military and the government.

bathmate said...

nice posting for this site..
really a wonderful blog...