BEIRUT: Speaking at a recent Iftar, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri acknowledged cracks within his party's ranks but said its foundation remained strong and vowed to continue down a path he said would protect Lebanon.
What path was Hariri referring to remains to be seen but his choices are narrowing.
He spearheaded an all-embracing political coalition in Beirut's municipal elections, yet he only secured a narrow victory against a list of mostly newcomers to politics. He threw his weight behind a candidate list backed by the political class that has traditionally controlled Tripoli, yet he lost to resigned Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, a former protégé of the Future Movement who rebelled against Hariri, accusing him of succumbing to Hezbollah and its dominion over Lebanon; a claim that apparently resounded with Tripoli's voters.
Simply put, in Beirut, Hariri failed to win the hearts of those who have long regarded him as a voice of moderation while in the predominantly Sunni city of Tripoli, he lost ground to conservatives within his own community.
By failing to decide on a clear action plan, Hariri and his financially strained movement, are likely to lose more ground come parliamentary elections in 2017 amid increasing doubts among his supporters over what is the clear path going forward.
The former prime minister has conceded the presidential election to the March 8 coalition and alienated his longtime ally Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, yet he failed to get Hezbollah to agree to a comprehensive deal that would break the political deadlock. He nominated Syrian President Bashar Assad's ally Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh for the presidency, though he refused to go the extra mile and endorse Hezbollah's other trusted ally and presidential candidate Free Patriotic Movement founder Michel Aoun. He continues to accuse Hezbollah of taking Lebanon hostage, yet he has stopped short of endorsing Saudi Arabia's "terrorist" classification of the Iranian-backed armed group.
While it has been wise of Hariri to keep communication channels open with Hezbollah as sectarian wars engulf the region, the Future Movement leader's indecisiveness has alienated his allies, empowered opportunists within his movement, bolstered his political foes and confused his supporters.
Hariri is right to be concerned but so should Hezbollah. By failing to meet him halfway, Hezbollah are asking Hariri one of two things: to either surrender completely to the party's terms when it comes to the presidential election, the ratification of a new parliamentary electoral system and the makeup of a new cabinet; or to completely severe ties with the Shiite group.
Under the first scenario, Hariri is likely to lose more ground to conservatives within his community, who will grow stronger against the backdrop of rising Sunni-Shiite tensions.
Under the second scenario, Hariri will probably lead that uncompromising movement himself, piling more pressure on Hezbollah at a time when the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council and U.S. banking regulations are tightening the noose on the party and its finances.
In any case, Hezbollah, like Hariri, has a lot at stake but there is no guarantee that reason will prevail for either faction.
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