Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1320, (17 - 23 November 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1320, (17 - 23 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Lebanon’s deadlock over?

Despite the end of the political deadlock in Lebanon, it seems unlikely that the new government will address the country’s essential problems, writes Mona Alami

Al-Ahram Weekly

The political deadlock at the head of the Lebanese state finally ended on 31 October with the election of Michel Aoun as Lebanon’s president, followed by the swift nomination of Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri.

The elections highlight several fresh trends prevailing on the Lebanese political scene, including the willingness of the country’s political parties to compromise and to produce surprising new alignments. However, while the new appointments will bring much-needed stability to the country, it is unlikely that they will change the dysfunctions of the current power-sharing system or address Lebanese citizens’ mounting concerns.

Until 31 October, the Lebanese parliament had convened 45 times over a two-and-a-half-year period in attempts to reach the needed quorum for the presidential elections. The Shia group Hizbullah and its allies had refused to attend without guarantees of the election of their candidate Michel Aoun.

The latter’s election was only made possible with the support of Hizbullah and Aoun’s foe, Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri. Hizbullah is accused of being involved in the assassination of Al-Hariri’s father, former prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri, in 2005.

According to sources close to the former prime minister, Al-Hariri’s recent pivot towards Hizbullah was motivated by several calculations, including a shift in the balance of military power in Syria in favour of the regime led by President Bashar Al-Assad, a staunch ally of Hizbullah and Aoun.

In addition, Al-Hariri has been weakened locally recently, with his candidates performing poorly in municipal elections and his company, Oger, believed to be on the verge of bankruptcy.

The shift that led to Aoun’s election and Al-Hariri’s appointment is unprecedented in Lebanon. The political factions in the country rarely come to such conclusions and are generally forced to compromise by foreign powers. In the pre-2005 period and up until the end of the Syrian occupation, it was Al-Assad who was the ultimate decision-maker in Lebanon. In 2008, the Doha Agreement framed by foreign powers brokered the formation of a consensus government followed by the election of president Michel Sleiman.

This time round, and unlike before the preceding deadlines, Aoun’s election and Al-Hariri’s appointment were the result of intense negotiations and a locally brokered deal between arch enemies. This has ushered in new and incoherent alliances in a country divided between two large coalitions: A pro-Western and Arab March 14 Movement led by Al-Hariri’s Future Party and the March 8 Movement led by Hizbullah and including Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement backed by Syria and Iran.

These coalitions now hold no more, as Aoun’s haphazard majority is comprised of the Future Movement as well as Hizbullah. The million-dollar question now is how this fresh majority will function given Al-Hariri’s rivalry with both Aoun and Hizbullah.  

Despite these uncertain dynamics, the election of Aoun and Al-Hariri’s appointment will bring stability to the system.

Lebanon has been facing paralysis at the level of its political institutions, which has been reflected in poor economic performance, soaring public debt and questions about the country’s financial stability.

The presidency and the formation of a new government will allow for much-needed appointments in key positions such as the Central Bank governor among others, and they should restore confidence. Yet, it is doubtful that they will change the power-sharing agreement prevailing in Lebanon, which is based on the division of the country’s resources between prominent sectarian leaders. In this framework, Hizbullah, the only faction to retain its military power after the country’s civil war, will not lose its position as Lebanon’s most powerful political player, and there will not be an end to the disconnect between the political class and the Lebanese people.

The country’s political leaders will continue to fight, while agreeing on their portfolios in the Al-Hariri-led government.

They will continue enriching themselves without addressing the problems faced by the country, which include electricity cuts, water shortages, rampant corruption, non-existent economic reforms and massive youth emigration.

The resolution of Lebanon’s painful political battle will stabilise the country in the short run and preserve its security in a region engulfed by sectarian fires. But it will fail in the long term to bring the much-needed reforms that will ensure the economic and political rebuilding necessary to Lebanon’s survival.

The writer is a researcher on Lebanese politics.

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