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Lebanon: What’s after Hariri's resignation?

November 9, 2017 at 8:13 pm

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri attends the take over ceremony at the government palace on 20 December 2016 in Beirut, Lebanon [Ratib Al Safadi/Anadolu Agency]

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri surprised the political and media groups in Lebanon and abroad with his resignation from his position as prime minister on Saturday 4 November. No one expected things to go that way. Nothing that preceded had suggested resignation. Only one day before, the man was at the opening of a conference he had sponsored talking about piracy work against his government and its achievements. He also emphasised the general and political stability of the country. He was engaged in a shuttle movement between different parties, to overcome obstacles in the way of certain governmental issues. He refused to talk about a general Lebanese frustration, and frustration of the Sunni Muslims to whom Hariri belongs and represents. He refused to acknowledge such frustration when the issue was raised by some of his MPs during the government discussion session weeks ago.

He visited Saudi Arabia a few days before submitting his resignation, and returned from there emphasising stability and even promising a better future for Lebanon. Suddenly, without warning, Hariri showed up from Riyadh via an Arab satellite television screen, submitting his resignation. Later on he called the President of the Lebanese Republic to tell him about the resignation. He accompanied the announcement with a statement that was more like a declaration of war against Hezbollah and Iran and their role in Lebanon, threatening to cut off the hand that extends to Lebanon wanting to dominate it.

There are internal and external reasons for the resignation. On the internal level, Hariri had managed to end the vacuum in the presidency by electing Michel Aoun as president of the republic, through a settlement and a deal between the latter and his movement on one side and with Hezbollah’s implicitly. Some elements of the deal included the return of functions to the institutions of the state within the powers granted by the Constitution for each institution.

Read: Saudi-owned TV says Hariri was target of assassination plot days ago

The settlement was also to provide a kind of balance between the different Lebanese components at the sectarian level, so that none of the components would feel that they’re being targeted and thus become frustrated. It was also supposed to establish a kind of balance between political forces, and begin with solving the country’s crises successively. Moreover, Lebanon must distance itself from the regional conflicts and the existing axes in the region and work to withdraw Hezbollah from Syria. No progress was made in any of these elements.

Hariri felt that his bet on the establishment of the state and the disconnection between Michel Aoun and Hezbollah did not happen. He also felt that he had made so many concessions that he had lost so much popularity with the masses, but all in vain. The masses have even accused him of going along with what the President of the Republic and Hezbollah wanted and of losing the rights of Sunni Muslims without any benefit. This internal situation is of course capable of pushing Hariri to take the step of resignation, which, was still unexpected.

Read: Lebanon too weak for Hariri resignation

On the foreign level, we have seen not long ago the Saudi Secretary of State for Arab Gulf Affairs, Thamer Al-Sabhan, threaten Hezbollah and warn it while forcing Lebanon to choose between one of two axes: either Arab or Persian. In one of his tweets, he even called for kicking Hezbollah out of the government. It is clear that it was a programmed Saudi campaign to put pressure on Lebanon, on the government, and especially on Saad Hariri, to take a stand.

If we recall the US campaign against Iran and Hezbollah, the American sanctions against them, the talk about events that took place a long time ago such as the bombing of the Marines headquarters in Beirut in August 1983 (killing 63 Americans), and other situations, we can also realise the extent of external pressure on Hariri which prompted him to resign while in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, not from Beirut.

What now, after Hariri’s resignation? It is clear that submitting the resignation this way, and at this time and place is similar to declaring a war against Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon under pressure from Saudi Arabia, and possibly America. Of course, that means that the step will be followed by another step or perhaps many other steps. If this remains an isolated step and limited to what has taken place only, then Hezbollah will not be affected at all. The president will go through some mandatory consultations as determined by the constitution, and will appoint another Sunni figure to form the government. But everyone in Lebanon is waiting for the next step and its nature, to build on it, while no one can guess what the step is going to be, because what’s going on is untraditional and outside the box. Possibilities vary between a war against Hezbollah through an international alliance led by Saudi Arabia and a scenario of sabotaging Lebanon’s internal situation and getting Hezbollah confused with it, in addition to a number of political, economic and other possibilities.

Lebanon today is facing a political crisis that is not easy or simple, and may not easily be resolved through a new deal or away from paying a high price, some of which must be paid by the President of the Republic through bringing institutions back to their regular work, in accordance with the powers determined by the Constitution for each institution.

In essence, the President of the Republic, according to the Constitution, is an arbitrator not a ruler. The Council of Ministers together is the ruling body. Hezbollah must make a concession in order to agree to a new deal, but the scope and limits of this concession are not clear yet. Resolving the crisis politically depends on the conviction of the President of the Republic and Hezbollah that there is a next step to the resignation and that it’s a costly one. But if they feel that there are no next steps, and that it is just a storm in a cup, then Hariri will have paid the price and left the country without having the ability to come back.

This article first appeared in Arabic on Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 7 November 2017

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.