Two Katyusha rockets were fired on Friday September 11, from southern Lebanon into northern Israel, prompting retaliatory artillery fire from the Israeli army. This incident, taking place amidst the cabinet formation crisis, triggered concerns among the Lebanese that Lebanon is still a battlefield for regional conflicts, or at the very least, a mail box loaded with brutal messages.
The Lebanese have accomplished a lot in the past 9 years. The Israeli troops pulled out in 2000 after 22 years of occupation, and the Syrian troops withdrew in 2005 after a hegemony that lasted 29 years. Lebanon witnessed its first fair and democratic elections that year and again in 2009, both of which resulted in the in a parliament with a clear majority for the March 14 alliance.
The widespread demands and achievements were met with wide international support, namely from the US and Europe. Their support continued through aid and international resolutions. However, Lebanon’s struggle for independence is still not finalized, and the crisis surrounding the cabinet formation is a proof that Syrian and Iranian proxies in Lebanon are working to keep Lebanon vulnerable to regional tensions, holding it as a bargaining chip in the hands of both Syria and Iran.
Although the Syrian regime agreed for an exchange of embassies with Lebanon, as part of a diplomatic relations, Syria has not yet officially acknowledged Lebanon as an independent country. The current governmental crisis shows that Syria will not sign off a government in Lebanon if it is not made in Syria.
Although the Syrian troops did withdraw from Lebanon four years ago, the regime still has enough allies to obstruct further achievements that could highlight Lebanon’s sovereignty, such as building state institutions or implementing international resolutions such as UN Resolution 1701 or the International Tribunal under UN Resolution 1757, to investigate and bring justice to the murderers of Hariri and the perpetrators of subsequent killings.
The Syrians have left a number of politicians and party leaders to do their dirty work in Lebanon, while the Iranians have Hezbollah, an armed group whose objective has been to resist Israeli occupation, until it was obliged to get involved in the Lebanese political scene after the Syrian withdrawal. All of these proxies gathered in 2005 to form the March 8 coalition, resembling the date of the demonstration “Thank you Syria” as the Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon.
Ever since then, and despite the fact that March 14 won the two parliamentary elections, March 8 forces have made it very clear that they can obstruct state institutions and hamper democracy.
Since 2005, the Lebanese government has not been able to make major decisions, being under the threat of Hezbollah’s arms and power.
For example, in December 2006, after the July war, Hezbollah and Amal Movement’s Shia ministers withdrew from the cabinet and demanded a national unity government where the opposition enjoys the obstructive third. As their demand was not immediately answered, the parliament, headed by Amal leader Speaker Nabih Berri, was closed for 16 months, during which a major sit-in was set up downtown Beirut.
The sit-in led to a real crisis for the trade district in downtown, causing many shops to close and a large number of employees to lose their jobs. Due to the closure of the Parliament, the election of a Lebanese President was also delayed.
This crisis reached a violent level in May 2007 when the cabinet decided to remove an official from his post at the airport and do away with Hezbollah telecommunications network due to its illegal status. However, instead of taking their objection to the Parliament, Hezbollah and its allies, Amal and the Social Syrian National Party (SSNP) took it to the streets and launched an attack on Beirut and the Druze areas in the mountain.
Innocent civilians were attacked and killed during four days, until regional forces interfered and flied everyone to Doha, where the Doha agreement was signed, granting the opposition the obstructive third in the cabinet.
Immediately, the sit-in was dismantled, the Parliament opened its doors and Michel Suleiman was elected a consensus President of the Republic. Under the power of arms, the Lebanese government had to give Hezbollah what it wanted: it retracted the two decisions and granted March 8 the obstructive third.
Hezbollah, on the other hand, never apologized for the victims of May 7 events. On the contrary, prior to the 2009 parliamentary elections, its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called it “a glorious day”.
This attitude of Hezbollah still prevails and looms over the cabinet formation. Despite the fair and democratic elections this year, Hezbollah, and its regional allies, would not accept the results of the elections. Democracy means nothing and the priority is to protect the arms and its regional agenda.
Therefore, when MP Saad Hariri was nominated first time as Prime Minister designate after the elections, the opposition launched an attack against him before he even proposed a cabinet to the President, ignoring the constitution that clearly states that only the PM-designate and the President should have a say in the government formation.
The irony is that Hariri did form his cabinet based on the 15-10-5 formula that everybody agreed on. He only refused to reappoint Minister Gebran Bassil to the Telecom Ministry again, and this was and remains Free Patriotic Movement’s head MP Michel Aoun’s main demand. Backed by Hezbollah, Aoun would not budge.
Even the appalling “blocking third” was indirectly granted by adding a minister close to Hezbollah in the president’s share, while Speaker Nabih Berri, who helped paralyze state institutions for months, was re-elected, and the issue of Hezbollah’s arms was pushed to be discussed later during another round of national dialogue, after the ministerial statement is formulated.
So what else does the opposition want? The answer is becoming more obvious every day: they simply do not want a government. Full stop!
Hariri resigned on September 10, and was re-nominated the following week. However, nothing has really changed. Aoun is still insisting on the Telecom Ministry for his son-in-law Gibran Bassil, and Berri did not nominate Hariri the second time, although he showed some support for him during the first round of negotiations. Apparently, Berri got a phone call from Syria and he had to join the opposition in their unified trial to hamper Hariri’s mission.
It is also becoming clear that the Telecom Ministry and Bassil’s appointment are being used by Aoun to obstruct the cabinet formation. True, this ministry generates a lot of money and plays an important role in security; however, the problem is bigger than a ministry here or a minister there.
Hariri has tried to give March 8 a fair role in the cabinet to keep Lebanon immune to regional tensions Apart from the Iranian nuclear program and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the region also has to contend with elections in Iraq in early 2010. The opposition rejected it too quickly, before even discussing its contents with Hariri and the president. In so doing, it exposed itself as a regional bagman.
Hanin GHADDAR is the Managing Editor of NOW Lebanon.