Opinion

Saudi-Iranian tensions not to blame for Hariri's failure

By Elias Sakr    | Annahar | January 8, 2016 at 18:28

 BEIRUT: The soaring Saudi-Iranian tensions in the wake of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr's execution have led many political analysts in Lebanon to conclude that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's initiative has been dealt a serious blow.

While it is reasonable to assume that Hariri's initiative might not give birth to the election of Suleiman Franjieh as president anytime soon, solely attributing its failure to the recent diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Iran is shortsighted.

When Hariri's initiative first emerged over a month ago, the Free Patriotic Movement's supporters and many within the March 8 coalition were asking themselves:

What can Suleiman Franjieh offer to the Future Movement and its regional ally Saudi Arabia that former General Michel Aoun can't? Why would former Prime Minister Saad Hariri choose to support Franjieh's bid for the presidency over Aoun's, when both of them take equal pride in their alliance with Hezbollah? Why would the Future Movement rally behind a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad and jeopardize its ties to Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea?

The most widely touted answer by Future Movement officials is that Franjieh, unlike Aoun, has faith in the Taif Accord.

In other words, the Future Movement is willing to concede the presidency to the March 8 alliance in exchange for maintaining the balance of power that has long prevailed under the Taif Accord. And this is exactly why Hariri's initiative was doomed to failure long before tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran reached new heights, further widening the rift between their allies in Lebanon.

Hezbollah has made it clear that its alliance with Aoun is far more important to the party than the election of a president from the March 8 camp. But even more important to Hezbollah, as its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah announced in a recent speech, is a comprehensive political settlement that includes an agreement over a new electoral law. Therein lies the problem.

The adoption of a new electoral law-- based on proportional representation as Hezbollah and Aoun are demanding-- simply means shifting the balance of power in favor of the March 8 alliance and shaking the foundations of the very same Taif Accord that the Future Movement is seeking to uphold through its support for Franjieh's presidential bid.

Simply put, the Future Movement's outright opposition to Aoun's presidential bid may backfire. After all, what guarantees can Franjieh offer to Hariri without Aoun and Hezbollah's consent? It would also be remiss of Hariri to forget that his support for Franjieh has alienated Geagea and brought him and Aoun closer together.

This rapprochement could prove very costly to Hariri as the November's legislative session has demonstrated. Back then, the FPM and LF pressured the Future Movement into reluctantly voting in favor of a law that would allow people of Lebanese origin to reclaim their citizenship after both Christian parties agreed to boycott the session had the citizenship law not been endorsed.

While the nationality law shouldn't be a big concern for Hariri, other items on the agenda of the FPM and LF's Declaration of Intent-- such as the agreement to pursue a new electoral law-- should.

It would be wise of Hariri to reconsider his initiative before Geagea and Aoun's Declaration of Intent becomes a full-fledged agreement over the presidential election and a new electoral law; an agreement that might leave Hariri empty-handed.



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