Lebanon buys time amid foreign mediation to contain crisis

The process of gaining more time was first initiated when Lebanon’s political class almost unanimously rejected Hariri’s resignation from abroad, demanding his return to Beirut
by Rozana Bou Monsef

22 November 2017 | 23:07

Source: by Annahar

  • by Rozana Bou Monsef
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 22 November 2017 | 23:07

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri sends a kiss to his supporters from a window of his residence, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (AP Photo )

BEIRUT: Following his anticipated return to Lebanon, which coincided with the country’s 74th Independence Day, Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at Baabda Presidential Palace before announcing that he would put his resignation on hold at the request of Aoun. 

While some observers believe that Hariri is paving the way for withdrawing his resignation, such an interpretation is premature. 

For the moment, Hariri is merely delaying his resignation, which was one of the most touted scenarios in the build-up to his return considering the delicate situation that Lebanon finds itself in and the uncertainty creeping in. 

Lebanon’s political class and its president are still seeking to fully understand the circumstances behind Hariri's resignation and maintain the country’s monetary and economic stability while awaiting the outcome of foreign mediation efforts led by France to contain the crisis. 

The process of gaining more time was first initiated when Lebanon’s political class almost unanimously rejected Hariri’s resignation from abroad, demanding his return to Beirut while Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah expressed his party's willingness to engage in dialogue in order to appease the situation.  

So what does Hariri’s statement from Baabda Palace mean? Will he officially submit his resignation or withdraw it?

In essence, Hariri’s statement suggests that he is neither willing to resign nor withdraw his resignation at this stage, but rather suspend it in order to assess to what extent are Lebanese officials, with foreign backing, willing to renegotiate the political settlement that initially led to the formation of his coalition government.

If these foreign efforts are juxtaposed with internal dialogues aimed at reaching a political compromise, then the current government would be given the opportunity to continue its work until the next Parliamentary elections are held.

This scenario doesn’t seem far-fetched when taking into account reports suggesting that parties from across the political spectrum are willing to make concessions to maintain Lebanon’s stability. 

Even if negotiations over Iran and Hezbollah's role in the region do not come to fruition, Hariri would have at least succeeded in easing imminent concerns over Lebanon's monetary stability.

While Iran might resort to superficial or provisional concessions as it finds itself increasingly entangled in regional conflicts with Gulf states, Tehran is unlikely to make serious concessions that would portray the Islamic republic along with Hezbollah as succumbing to Saudi pressure.

Although Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asserted two days ago, following a phone call with French President Emanuel Macron, that Hezbollah’s weapons are only for defensive purposes, the party’s activities both in Syria and Iraq seem to contradict this argument. Rouhani’s position, however, might be interpreted as an indication of Hezbollah’s potential withdrawal from different Arab fronts in order to restore Lebanon's neutrality and refrain from turning the country into a battlefield pitting Iran against Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. 

Following his meeting with both Aoun and Berri in Baabda, Hariri told supporters outside his residence in Beirut that maintaining the country’s stability is of the utmost importance, which is why he accepted Aoun’s request to suspend his resignation. 

An interesting feature of Hariri's remarks was that although he failed to specify his position within the current political landscape, he did assert Lebanon’s Arabic roots twice in reference to his resignation speech over concerns that the country is slipping under Iran’s sphere of influence. 

A version of this article appeared in Annahar's Arabic print issue on November 23, 2017. The article was adapted into English by Georgi Azar.

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