August 07, 2016

Lebanon’s long war

Agreement between all parties is needed if there is to be stable government

Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri proposed a broad agreement to not just fill the long-vacant presidency, but also appoint a new prime minister and government, and amend the election law ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.
Berri’s opponents questioned whether this proposal actually came at the behest of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and aimed to change the rules of the political game in Lebanon where power is split between Christians and Muslims to one in which power is split among Christians, Sunnis and Shias.
Berri sought to pre-empt his detractors by stressing he and his allies are committed to the 1989 Taif agreement, which ended Lebanon’s civil war and drew up the current political system, and had no intention of undermining Lebanon’s constitution.
Supporters of the March 14 political bloc led by former prime minister Saad Hariri called for the protection of the Taif agreement and the current constitution, saying that the election of a new president must be the priority.
At the same time, March 14 politicians said that, given the lack of movement on the issue over the past two years, perhaps Lebanon should drop the requirement that the president be a Maronite Christian, particularly as the only remaining candidates are part of the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, including controversial figure Michel Aoun.
Parliament has been virtually paralysed during this presidential crisis and the political conflict that has accompanied it.
Since the 2008 Doha agreement, paralysis and disruption have been a part of Lebanon’s political system that has affected everyday life. The formation of a government and the operation of Lebanon’s ministries and institutions have become subject to this disruption, to the point that it has become normal.
The same goes for the election of a new president, namely the legislature’s disruption of parliament and the disruption of the operation of the cabinet.
The constitution is supposed to regulate government appointments and distribute this according to the well-known sectarian quota system. The Taif agreement was based on the local, regional and international balance of power in 1989.
Those who are calling for the constitution to be amended argue that this quota system must be changed to reflect the balance of power today. But those who oppose this argue that constitutional amendments cannot be imposed by force or under the threat of Hezbollah’s illegal arms.
The same applies to the calls for Lebanon’s election law to be amended. How can this take place under threat of Hezbollah?
The issue goes beyond Lebanon’s borders. Lebanon’s political elite are well aware they are operating against the backdrop of a regional clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran and an international one between the United States and Russia.
The presidential vacuum in Lebanon means that an acceptable solution must be found at home but this is virtually impossible given the geo-strategic situation.
Ultimately, an agreement among all parties is needed if there is to be a stable government and political system in Beirut.
The Taif agreement was not amended before, even during the era of Syrian tutelage over Lebanon, but this was due to reasons relating to regional and international conditions. Those conditions still exist.
As for the national dialogue, ultimately no consensus was reached, whether on the election of a new president, amending the Taif agreement, the constitution or changing the election law.
Local media were quick to point out that the political elite were unable to reach an agreement to elect a new president. Berri likely knew this and knew that his proposal would never pass. Those calling for constitutional amendments also knew this would likely not happen either. But that does not necessarily mean that it will not happen at all. This will be a long war that will not be decided by any single battle.

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