Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Clashes in Tripoli as government falls

The government in Lebanon collapsed this week following disagreements with Hizbullah, leading to street clashes in Tripoli, writes Andrew Bossone

Al-Ahram Weekly

After Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Miqati announced his resignation to the country this week, his hometown of Tripoli became embroiled in yet another series of violent street clashes between the Alawite residents of Jabal Mohsen and the Sunni residents of Bab Al-Tebbaneh.

Lebanese security said that in this round of fighting, which took place from 22 to 23 March, 12 people died, including one army soldier, in addition to two dozen wounded. Streets were empty as snipers fired shots for two nights and RPGs exploded sporadically. Deadly clashes have occurred in the city 15 times since 2008, according to press reports.

The conflict has larger sectarian and political roots, so although calm was largely restored in time for the Palm Sunday processions in the city amid a large security presence, it could erupt again soon.

Reports said that security raids had included arrests and weapons seizures, but no figures were released, and unconfirmed reports give the impression that the security forces were unable to do much against the militias.

The fighters may not only have come from Tripoli, as they reportedly also included Salafis from the city of Saida, lately emboldened by their charismatic yet confrontational leader Ahmed Assir.

“The security situation will be affected by the absence of the government [but] we will not let things get out of control while a new one is formed,” Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told LBC television.

The events surrounding Miqati’s resignation and the clashes in Tripoli are part of ongoing disputes across the country. Miqati had insisted on passing a law presented by President Michel Sleiman extending the term of a few senior officers due for retirement at the age of 59. Hizbullah rejected the proposal because it included extending the term of the head of the police, Ashraf Rifi, who is also from Tripoli.

Rifi and Hizbullah have long been at odds with one another.

Miqati may also have been exhausted by a government that has been able to get little accomplished, let alone agree on which men will lead state security. He has also been at odds with Hizbullah on passing a new elections law, something which has been discussed for many months but with nothing concrete occurring.

His decision to exit, however, is unlikely to make an already doubtful election occur any sooner. When Miqati took office in 2011, it was about five months since the previous government had fallen.

Unsurprisingly, few candidates have stepped up to take his job, and the previous prime minister, Saad Al-Hariri, lives between Saudi Arabia and France, so those who have already called for him to step in to the job will at least have to wait until he returns.

Labour Minister Selim Jreissati, whose Free Patriotic Movement is aligned with Hizbullah, said that the rest of the cabinet rejected Rifi and the formation of an electoral authority to oversee the elections and that it would not resign, in essence remaining a caretaker government.

But Jreissati is also under pressure in his post. Only days before the government collapsed, airport workers joined the nation’s teachers for a strike that drew an estimated 20,000 people out in protest.

If Jreissati stays in his position, he will likely come under increasing scrutiny from labour leaders because even if Lebanon now only has a caretaker government, this is the only one that the Lebanese can petition.

Lebanon’s shaky governments have been a persistent problem since the country’s civil war, and instability has been the norm. Miqati was a caretaker premier for only a few months in 2005, and his present term has lasted just under two years.

Despite an often turbulent political situation, it has been 52 years since Lebanon last updated its election laws. The proposal approved by parliament in February, the so-called “orthodox” plan, is not a step towards free elections, as it calls on each sect to choose its own lawmakers, excluding the possibility of independent parties contesting the elections.

If anything, the plan entrenches the same system further, one already riddled by instability and divisions.

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