The lessons of Hariri’s resignation should not be unlearned
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s suspension of his resignation, his office said, may soon become permanent. However, the undue haste with which all are moving risks leaving the fundamental issues that brought them to this apparent impasse unaddressed.
Hariri’s conciliatory stance materialised after Lebanese President Michel Aoun assured the prime minister that adequate measures would be taken to address his main grievance — the urgent need to return to a clear policy of dissociation from regional conflicts.
Lebanon’s practice of dissociation has been a central pillar of its foreign policy. It was the basis of the settlement brokered between Hariri and Aoun almost a year ago in which Aoun would be elected president and Hariri named prime minister, charged with leading a national unity government that included Hezbollah.
This supposedly unwavering commitment to dissociation evaporated. Increasingly, through Aoun’s actions and statements, echoed faithfully by his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, a policy direction was established that clearly favoured Iran’s aims over those of a relatively united Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It was this, as much as anything else, that led to Lebanon’s regional alienation and the theatrics in Riyadh of Hariri’s resignation.
Much ink has been spilt trying to analyse and understand the intricacies of Hariri’s decision to resign, a process that has seen the volume of speculation only matched by the morass of misinformation. Yet, what is certain is that, contrary to the line Hariri and his allies are peddling, the crisis is far from over. Mere lip service is unlikely to appease an edgy GCC determined to confront and check Iran’s expansionist plans.
Thus far, in return for Hariri’s quiescence, Hezbollah promised to withdraw its advisers from Iraq and its fighters from Syria once victory has been assured. No indication has been given as to the extent of that withdrawal. Neither has there been any reference to the group’s involvement in the conflict in Yemen or acknowledgement that Hezbollah’s deployment to these areas ran counter to Lebanon’s policy of dissociation. It’s hardly a dramatic break with past policy. Moreover, neither has there been any undertaking that Hezbollah won’t be deployed so again. None of this can be lost on Hariri.
It’s a fact that the Lebanese generally, and Hariri specifically, would prefer to ignore. Instead of tackling the elephant in the room, they are opting to paper over it, loudly proclaiming their alleged commitment to the concept of dissociation while maintaining the practices that led to their predicament. While Hariri might be intent on shielding Lebanon from the financial and political wrath of the Saudi-led coalition, Aoun’s bloc has yet to show remorse for its part in creating the crisis.
On the contrary, during a recent visit to Italy, Aoun felt it wise to antagonise his critics by declaring Hezbollah a strategic ally in the fight against terrorism both locally and abroad.
Even supposing we give Aoun’s intentions the benefit of the doubt, it’s a surprisingly reckless statement to come from such a veteran politician, one sure to embolden an armed militia deeply implicated in the anarchy engulfing the region.
The fact is that Aoun has never missed a chance to give legitimacy to Hezbollah and, by doing so, has lent credence to accusations hurled at Lebanon by its benefactors in the GCC. It’s not surprising that they and others are beginning to view Lebanon, including the political future of Hariri, as an unsalvageable mess.
Hariri has failed to produce a blueprint to extricate Lebanon from the crisis at hand. Rather than project the image of a statesman intent on preserving the international legacy of his father, he has chosen to deepen his unholy alliance with Aoun.
When examined closely, this has failed to do much to redeem Hariri’s faltering political career, one damaged by continual attacks on the prime minister, led not least by his current partners in government. Equally, Aoun has nullified provisions of the Taif Accord, which bestow on the prime minister constitutional powers equal to those of the president. However, rather than use those powers, Hariri ignored Aoun’s transgressions and shared in the spoils of state.
Hariri’s statement to a French newspaper that “Hezbollah does not use its weapons on Lebanese territory” is not only a colossal fallacy but ample proof that depending on him to steer Lebanon out of its political storm is costly and unwise.
A month after Hariri’s resignation announcement, little has substantially changed. What is certain from these recent weeks is that Hariri and his allies are so eager to return to “business as usual” that they have gambled recklessly with the economic safety net Lebanon’s wary allies had previously provided.