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Analysis

With or Without Hariri, a Cabinet to do What?

With or Without Hariri, a Cabinet to do What?

Saad Hariri. File Photo Dalati and Nohra

Political negotiations underway to form the next cabinet give the impression that despite the extreme urgency of the situation and the sharp criticisms made against the Lebanese authori-ties for having shirked their political responsibilities in the August 4 cataclysm, everything is going on as if nothing has changed in the country and the specter of total collapse does not threaten the state and the society in the coming months.

This observation shows how much a large part of the ruling class, despite calls made by all sides, remains disconnected from reality or continues to hope to avoid this or that structural reform demanded by the international community to initiate financial and economic aid to Lebanon. This is, for example, the case of the president of the republic's camp which, driven by Gebran Bassil, has been fighting forcefully and fervently for years to prevent the creation of a planned regulatory authority in the electricity sector that do not fall under the authority of the Energy Ministry, even though this is one of the donors' very top demands. This is also the case with other political parties, currently led by Nabih Berri's camp, which attempt to bypass, or at best neutralize another requirement, that of the planned audit of Banque du Liban (BDL)'s ac-counts.

If the BDL were today a winning business and if the electricity sector alone did not sum up the story of the Lebanese state's failure and bankruptcy, one would have understood that political actors wish to continue to use these levers of influence to derive clientelist legitimacy. But not in the state where they are! However, to hear all these parties competing to make commit-ments regarding their intention to pave the way for a cabinet able to carry out the required re-forms, one can only wonder where the mistake is and why it seems that everyone engaged in the current negotiations is only talking about the prime minister's name.

The Shiite duo says it is in favor of the return of Saad Hariri at the head of the cabinet, while President Michel Aoun and his alter ego, Bassil, do not want him. This is also the case with Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces (LF), but apparently for other reasons. As for Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), we no longer understand very well what they want or do not want; same for the civil society groups by the way.

Is the Shiite Duo Against Bassil?

Let us dare to summarize the situation: the parliament speaker, Berri, in agreement with Hez-bollah, is trying to impose a cabinet presided over by Hariri. Berri went to Baabda (last Friday) to brief Aoun and, indirectly, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). Leaks in the press and statements by officials of the Shiite duo, notably Hezbollah's number two Naim Qassem, show that behind the Hariri facade, conceived here as a guarantee of the pacification of the Sunni community, a national unity cabinet or something resembling it is still under con-sideration. The obvious goal is, at worst, to dilute responsibility when it comes to taking action that is painful for taxpayers, civil servants, retirees and other segments of society; and, at best, to blame it all on... Hariri.

But beyond that, there is Hezbollah's total inability to break away from the consensual political pattern established by the 2008 Doha Agreement, which clearly led to the breakdown of gov-ernance in Lebanon. It is this breakdown that is at the origin of French President Emmanuel Macron's call for a new political pact in Lebanon. It is a call that should be, of course, distin-guished from repeated demands by Shiite political or religious figures in this repect, because in the shadow of Hezbollah's special status and arsenal, such demands can only appear to the oth-er parties as revengeful attempts to establish hegemony.

Getting back to the government issue, Bassil resolved the problem on Sunday by notifying Berri that he rejected the return of Hariri as prime minister. Press reports then reported attempts by Aounist circles to find here or there a new Hassan Diab to succeed... Diab. Of course, the FPM is free to have a preference for a particular candidate to head the new cabinet, but its attitude reflects an unfortunate and recurring tendency not to want for others what it wants for itself.

Thus, after having, with the help of Hezbollah, blocked the presidential elections for two and a half years in order to impose its point of view according to which, in conformity with the na-tional pact, the most popular leader among Christians should be "elected" president of the re-public, the FPM does not consider it necessary to apply the same criterion to the Sunni commu-nity, knowing that neither the constitution nor the national pact says anything about it. To this must be added the behavior of the president who, once again, contravenes the constitutional rules by delaying the binding parliamentary consultations to name a prime minister, thereby abusively trespassing on the latter's prerogatives with regard to the cabinet formation.

Ambiguities

The LF rejection of Hariri's appointment as head of cabinet is not unambiguous. Geagea's party is known to have supported the demands of the protest movement and is calling for a cabinet made up exclusively of independent experts to carry out the reforms. However, reading be-tween the lines of the statements and communiqués of the party and its leaders, one feels that the LF would not oppose any form of cabinets headed by Hariri. In other words, what is clearly rejected by Meerab is a Hariri who would be similar to the one in the first three years of Aoun's term, the Hariri who declared a year and a half ago that he was linked to Bassil's FPM by a "Maronite marriage."

Such an LF position is close to that of the main Gulf donors, namely Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Hariri himself maintains a certain ambiguity, since even supposing that Hezbol-lah would accept his condition to head a cabinet of experts, it is not certain that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi would agree to give him a blank check without a serious questioning of its modus vivendi with the Shiite party (including turning in to justice "its" official who was condemned by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Salim Ayyash). So what is the point?

Then came the turn of Hariri to shuffle the cards. He announced in a surprise move on Tuesday that he was out of the premiership race and won't head the new government.

There is one week left until September 1, the date of the centennial of Greater Lebanon and of Macron's announced second visit to Beirut to see the progress of the reforms... If, during this week, the political parties do not realize that the reasonable and moderate platform presented by France is the only one currently available to form a cabinet with the objective of starting as soon as possible the reforms that will unblock international financial aid, then Lebanon will face more and more serious perils.

Should the bread bundle reach LL15,000 for the political players start to move?


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 25th of August)


Political negotiations underway to form the next cabinet give the impression that despite the extreme urgency of the situation and the sharp criticisms made against the Lebanese authori-ties for having shirked their political responsibilities in the August 4 cataclysm, everything is going on as if nothing has changed in the country and the specter of total collapse does not threaten the state...