Lebanon's government paralysis: Will Hariri blink first?

by Bassem Ajami

24 July 2018 | 15:44

Source: by Annahar

  • by Bassem Ajami
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 24 July 2018 | 15:44

This photo shows Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. (AFP Photo)

No one doubts the patriotism and integrity of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. The man is truly among the few political leaders in the country who genuinely care about Lebanon's stability and economic progress. But he also succumbs too easily to pressure and sheer bullying by his political rivals. 

While between 2005 and 2018 the March 14 movement that he led enjoyed a clear parliamentary and popular majority, Hariri surrendered in every confrontation that pitted him against the March 8 movement, from disputes over appointments in key government posts to the formation of cabinets. He always justified his retreat by the desire to save the country political turmoil and security risks. No doubt a noble cause.

The most serious retreat by Hariri was his decision to endorse Hezbollah's declared candidate, MP Michel Aoun, as president. In justifying his decision, Hariri said that he was inspired by reading "from the book of Rafik Hariri." That may be so.

But he would have done better had he read the last chapter of his father's book. It speaks volumes about the rough characteristics that sway Lebanese politics. But the young Hariri was bullied and intimidated by the March 8 movement. And he surrendered once more.

Today, in his attempt to form a government, Hariri again confronts the harassment apparatus of the March 8 movement. It manifests itself in the - sometimes subtle sometimes not- threats to revoke his nomination to form the awaited government. Foreign Minister and Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil's declaration that his patience "is wearing thin" is a clear expression of the prevailing mood within the March 8 camp.

The serious point about Bassil's intimidating statement is that it conceals an intent to violate the constitution. Since the Taif Accord imposes no deadline on the nominated prime minister to form a government. Moreover, Bassil's declaration attracts criticism because the man has no official capacity to announce to the Lebanese the level of his patience over such a delicate issue.

One can understand if the president makes such a declaration, or even the speaker or the designated prime minister. While Bassil is a key political player, and his role was enhanced by the recent legislative elections, which positioned him as the leader of the largest bloc in parliament, he is in no position to make such demands. His aim is to bully Hariri in the hope of coercing him to embrace his views on the shape and form of the awaited government.

Interestingly, Bassil's patience did not wear thin when the office of the president was kept vacant for some two and a half years because the then-presidential candidate, MP Michel Aoun, did not command the needed majority in parliament.

One may argue that this is all within the limits of the legitimate political game. That may be so. But the question that poses itself today is how will the current impasse be resolved? Previous experience tells us that Hariri is likely to blink first. Hopefully, he doesn’t.

Mr. Ajami is a freelance researcher, writer and contributor to The Arab Weekly, London. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Annahar.


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