The Lebanese government’s painful birth

The world had more important things to do than wait for Lebanon to sort itself out.
Sunday 21/10/2018
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, on September 3. (Reuters)
Signs of a breakthrough. Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, on September 3. (Reuters)

Beirut is expected to finally form its new government. What is certain, however, is that Lebanon is subject to the mood of the outside world and its will. Therefore, it would be good for the Lebanese to become aware of their true size and their effect on the wider international scene.

The controversies and arguments that hindered the long-awaited birth and the multidirectional knots behind them have given us all headache after headache. First, there was a Sunni knot in which Hezbollah sought to stuff the cabinet with its own Sunni ministers, who, of course, would be loyal to Hezbollah and anti-Saad Hariri’s Future Movement. That way, Hariri and his movement would have serious competition in representing Lebanon’s Sunni community.

Then, a Christian knot emerged. In it, Hezbollah seeks to increase the cabinet share of its ally Lebanese President Michel Aoun and this on top of the share of Aoun’s party, the Free Patriotic Movement, led by Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil.

So that the Lebanese Druze don’t feel left out, Hezbollah ties a Druze knot in which it would impose a larger share for its other ally, Talal Arslan, who is a favourite of the regime in Syria.

From inside, all these orders were submitted by the retail clients but it was known that the wholesaler behind them was Hezbollah.

French President Emmanuel Macron met with Aoun in Armenia and insisted that Bassil attend the meeting as well. Paris has delivered serious and firm messages ordering an end to the cabinet auction and to take a final stand considering a general international desire for the governmental impasse in Beirut to end.

Before the meeting, Aoun fired arrows that struck major decision-making capitals. His comments in an interview with French daily Le Figaro contrasted with the trend in the international scene. Aoun lauded Hezbollah and defended its weapons, its wars and its views, while Washington was relentlessly increasing the momentum of its sanctions against the party, its networks and its suppliers.

When Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took the podium at the United Nations, waving pictures and maps of Hezbollah rocket sites near Beirut airport, Bassil volunteered to take all foreign ambassadors in Beirut on an inspection tour of the sites to see for themselves that they were free of what Netanyahu and his generals had claimed.

Paris moved quickly and firmly to remind Beirut that the matter was not a childish game and that the scent of war in the air was real and could not withstand lighthearted jokes about tours that displeased the ambassadors in Lebanon.

After meeting with Macron, Bassil seemed to have understood what he was refusing to understand before. He rushed to see Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Mean tongues have said that that was why Macron had insisted on Bassil’s presence at the meeting. The meeting with Nasrallah lasted three hours. Then, word came that the bond on Hariri’s government had been lifted.

This was a triumph for Hariri, the prime minister-designate. The international community is backing Lebanon and backing him personally. It seems that the CEDRE conference of donor countries to support Lebanon, in Paris last April under the auspices of the French president, appeared to be a message aimed at supporting Hariri himself more than supporting Lebanon.

Sponsored by Arab and regional countries and supported by major powers, Hariri has become a Lebanese reference. When he hinted that he might resign from the task of forming the next government, those who did not realise it before finally understood that the man was speaking out of his knowledge that the general mood outside Lebanon was not conducive to Lebanese vanity and the naivete of its political class.

The world had more important things to do than wait for Lebanon to sort itself out. There are major workshops going on, workshops that will determine the fate of the Middle East. One of those workshops revolves around the future of Syria and it involves a competition between Russia and the United States, with Turkey, Israel and the surrounding countries poking their noses in it. Washington is dead set on driving Iran out of Syria. So, Lebanon is just a small detail on the big boys’ agendas.

Day after day, US President Donald Trump’s administration has shown a dogged determination to keep maximum pressure on Iran. Brian Hook, director of policy planning at the State Department, spoke about the United States’ determination to force Iran to sign a new deal on Tehran’s nuclear and missile programmes and its behaviour internationally.

As Hook waves the deal in the sense that it would be possible to let the mullahs’ regime survive, the US Treasury Department is shaking the pillars of the Tehran regime by imposing sanctions on the financial network supporting it and its striking tool, the Basij forces. Therefore, Lebanon will not be allowed to sing a different tune.

Hezbollah hinted that foreign parties imposing the terms of the internal agreement on the composition of the new Hariri government was a natural consequence of the settlement that led to Adel Abdul-Mahdi becoming prime minister in Iraq. So, if the deal in Iraq had a heavy Iranian scent hovering about it, so is the case in Beirut, brought by a surprise visit to Beirut by Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

It is clear though that Hezbollah wants this government to see the light. It is also in Iran’s interests to have a full and legitimate government in place in Beirut according to the wishes of the International community. It will serve it well when Iran goes to Paris to convince the Europeans that it still plays a pivotal role in determining the conditions of stability in the region, Iraq and Lebanon included.

On the other hand, it seems that Hezbollah, dogged by US sanctions, has bent to the storm and found warmth in the cover of legitimacy within a cohesive government where friends and foes coexist gracefully.

The world order is drawing the lines in the region. Something that is being carefully crafted may have surprises for Damascus’s relations with countries in the region that have been waging a campaign against it. Lebanon will not be left outside an international political process involving all the countries of the world. It is not in Lebanon’s interest to be unique either and stand outside the mood of the Arabs and the world.

The Lebanese may restrain their government’s release as long as possible but, when the light turns red, they will graciously and tenderly facilitate the birth of their next government and prepare to listen carefully to what distant capitals whisper.