Aoun and Berri's latest squabble: Don't expect an all out war

With Berri maintaining both publicly and privately his opposition to the decree thus far, it remains to be seen whether he will back down in order to shield the country from a possible political deadlock
by Sarkis Naoum

9 January 2018 | 13:14

Source: by Annahar

  • by Sarkis Naoum
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 9 January 2018 | 13:14

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, center left, speaks with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, left, next to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, right, during a military parade to mark the 74th anniversary of Lebanon's independence from France in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (AP Photo)

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri has remained adamant, up to this point, that a decree granting a one-year seniority to army officers who graduated from the military academy in 1994 is in violation of the Taif Accord as well as Lebanon's Constitution because it lacks the signature of Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil. 

The question on everyone’s mind now is whether Berri will elect to soften his stance in the wake of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah expressing his non-objection to the decree signed by both President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The answer to this highly polarizing issue remains a mystery. 

With Berri maintaining both publicly and privately his opposition to the decree thus far, it remains to be seen whether he will back down in order to shield the country from a possible political deadlock if the speaker instructs Khalil – one of his representatives in the Cabinet– not to sign any other decree that comes his way. 

Another hindering block to a straightforward solution is Aoun’s reluctance to concede as well. 

The President has equally held his ground and reiterated his position on more than one occasion, with the latest defying remarks emanating following his meeting with various economic bodies and professional delegations at the Baabda Presidential Palace. 

The lack of a clear resolution, however, should not be misconstrued as an inevitable war pitting two of the country’s top government officials against each other, even though both leaders disagree over numerous issues.

Nasrallah’s subdued approach to the power struggle can thus be credited for de-escalating a situation that could have morphed into a dangerous conflict.

Were it not for the alliance forged between Nasrallah – a longtime Berri partner – and Aoun in 2006, tensions between Lebanon’s Speaker and head of state could have risen even more so, reaching an alarming boiling point. 

According to political observers, Nasrallah’s previous silence regarding the matter was in fact interpreted as an endorsement of Berri’s stance due to their Shiite ties and the fact that the decree was perceived by some as somewhat disrupting the balance of power stipulated in the Taif Accord between Sunnis, Shias and Maronites. 

However, after Nasrallah broke his silence on the issue in an interview with Pan-Arab news network Al-Mayadeen, these assumptions have now been laid to rest. 

Nasrallah is now expected to play a leading role in helping resolve this crisis, particularly since Hezbollah doesn’t view Aoun’s move as a strategical blow.

It can be argued that Aoun might have floundered in his attempt to repay those officers who were loyal to him in the 1980’s, raising concerns over the balance of power under the Taif Accord. 

That said Aoun's move can be easily overlooked while safeguarding the Taif Accord.

The Hezbollah leader is also cognizant of Berri’s motives and position, yet refrained from interfering in the dispute for fear of jeopardizing his alliance with Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, or the long-lasting accord with his Shiite counterpart.

Political insiders have also maintained that Hariri could have mitigated this squabble by not rushing into signing the decree, possibly holding talks with Berri, a trusted friend and ally, in order to reach a compromise that satisfies both parties.

Hariri could have even tried to convince Aoun to set the matter aside for the time being.

Yet Lebanon’s Premier did neither of these things.

Perhaps, because he feels indebted to Aoun after he helped secure his safe return to Lebanon following his abrupt resignation from Saudi Arabia, or because he’s seeking to strengthen his cooperation with both Aoun and Bassil to achieve the goals of the Cabinet he heads.

Another touted explanation is Hezbollah’s keenness on maintaining its relationship with Hariri, a relationship that’s been partially restored in the wake of the aforementioned crisis, with the party vying to steamroll any policy that doesn’t affect its local and regional strategy.

One thing is certain, however. The Hariri-Aoun dynamic is paramount at the moment.

The article was adapted into English by Georgi Azar.

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