BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's endorsement of Free Patriotic Movement founder Michel Aoun for the presidency will likely see the former general take office soon despite opposition from Speaker Nabih Berri.
However, it is Berri's relation with Aoun that will to a large extent shape the presidential term of the FPM founder.
In this context, the period leading up to the designation of a new prime minister, should Aoun assume his presidential duties, will be decisive.
Will Aoun succeed, with the support of Hezbollah, in bridging the gap with Berri ahead of the presidential vote or soon thereafter? Is Berri's public opposition to Aoun's election a political maneuver in an attempt to raise the bar in future negotiations with Aoun over the makeup of the upcoming Cabinet?
Only time will tell. But if Aoun's negotiations with Berri stumble, both Aoun and Hariri are likely to face challenges when it comes to the formation of the next Cabinet.
What if, under the latter scenario, the speaker decides to boycott the government? Will Hezbollah facilitate the formation of a Cabinet in which the Amal Movement is not represented?
Well, almost certainly, the answer is no due to numerous political considerations.
First and foremost, Hezbollah has a key interest in preserving inter-Shiite unity particularly given its current preoccupations in Syria where the group is fighting a tough war against anti-Assad rebel groups and Sunni Islamist militants.
Additionally, Hezbollah is likely to exploit Berri's position to demand guarantees from Hariri and his Cabinet vis-à-vis the party's involvement in the Syrian conflict and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in exchange for facilitating an orderly formation process of the government.
But doesn't the alliance between Aoun and Hezbollah require the party to support the former general as he looks to start his presidential term on a high note?
The answer again is no. Hezbollah's Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly stressed that the party has a moral and political obligation to support Aoun's presidential bid but made no commitments to the general beyond the presidential election. In fact, Nasrallah had called for a comprehensive political settlement that involves an agreement over the president, the premiership, the makeup of a new cabinet and the ratification of a new electoral law well before Berri spoke of a political 'package deal'.
Let's assume, however, for the sake of argument that Hezbollah will join a Cabinet that excludes Berri's movement in a bid to bolster the presidency of his key Christian ally.
Will Hariri, in his future capacity as the 'Sunni' prime minister of Lebanon, form a Cabinet in which the Shiites are only represented by the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah at a time when regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia—Hariri's key ally—is fighting bloody proxy wars with Iran over who controls Syria, Iraq and Yemen?
Probably not. In other words, Aoun and Hariri ought to negotiate a deal with Berri sooner rather than later.
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