A Welcome End to the Hariri Era

by RANNI AMIRI

Parliamentary democracy is a tricky thing. Prime ministers come and go as alliances shift and majorities change. As this week’s uproar in Lebanon proved, it is a reality outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri has yet to grasp.

Lebanon’s sectarian political structure adds a twist of complexity to the country’s governance: the prime minister must be a Sunni, the president a Maronite and the speaker of parliament a Shia. Additionally, cabinet and parliamentary seats must be evenly divided between Christian and Muslim and represent all the nation’s confessional groups, in fixed proportion.

So when 11 opposition ministers withdrew from Hariri’s cabinet on Jan. 12 in wake of his refusal to candidly address the politicized indictments expected from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, it brought down his government.

Shortly thereafter, Druze and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt declared, “I hereby … confirm my party’s position by the side of Syria and the Resistance [Hezbollah].”

Jumblatt was dubbed kingmaker because the 11 seats under his (now-disbanded) Democratic Gathering would decide which political bloc controls parliament. Although he was once squarely allied with the March 14 coalition led by Hariri’s Future Movement, in a typical change of position, he distanced himself from them in 2009 and functioned as an independent. After Hariri scuttled the Saudi-Syrian initiative and his administration collapsed, Jumblatt placed his eggs in the basket of the March 8 opposition led by Hezbollah, Amal and Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.

Of 128 seats in Lebanon’s Chamber of Deputies, a prime ministerial candidate needs the support of at least 65 legislators. March 8 had 57 and March 14, 60 and the Democratic Gathering 11. With the defection of Jumblatt and seven party MPs, March 14 lost the majority they once claimed in the June 2009 elections.

Having stated they would no longer back a Hariri premiership (Aoun said that reappointing Hariri would be “tantamount to consenting to domestic corruption”), March 8 nominated Tripoli MP, former prime minister and billionaire telecom tycoon, Najib Miqati.

A moderate and centrist holding good relations with all sects, Miqati branded himself the “alternative consensus candidate” and went out of his way to extend an olive-branch to Hariri:

“I extend my hand to everyone without exception … I say to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, let us all work together for the sake of Lebanon.”

In a televised address Sunday, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah likewise struck a conciliatory tone:

“We want the new prime minister to form a national unity government in which everyone participates. We don’t want a cabinet that excludes any party … We respect everyone’s right to representation. All claims that Hezbollah has plans to install an Iranian or Shia government is distortion, misleading and outright false.”

The response?

“The Future Movement announces its refusal to participate in a government headed by a candidate named by the opposition.”

After March 8 had secured a total of 68 seats, President Michel Suleiman named Miqati prime minister on Tuesday and asked him to form a government.

It was a peaceful exercise in parliamentary democracy that Hariri, March 14 and their United States patrons thoroughly rejected.

“As for the coup that Hezbollah is carrying out, it is an attempt to put the office of prime minister under the control of waliyatul faqih [rule of the clerics],” said Hariri loyalist Mustafa Alloush in Tripoli, who told Sunnis to reject “Persian tutelage.”

Mirroring the specious claim of Israel, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, March 14 issued a statement saying that Hezbollah would make Lebanon an “Iranian base.” Samir Geagea, head of the extremist Lebanese Forces in the March 14 alliance, said Hezbollah would “turn Lebanon into Gaza.”

In stark contrast to last week’s silent show of strength when Hezbollah men appeared on Beirut’s streets clad in black T-shirts (which Hariri supporters nonetheless described as “hooliganism”), the supposed March 14 moderates called for a “Day of Rage.”

It was nothing more than blatant sectarian incitement.

Tripoli—Lebanon’s northern, Sunni-dominated port city that is a hotbed of Salafi extremism—became the epicenter of violence. Protestors burned tires, fired weapons, torched a van belonging to Al-Jazeera television network and attacked other reporters covering the unrest (who had to be rescued by the Lebanese Army after the rioters had surrounded them). They ransacked the offices of another Tripoli MP backing Miqati and carried banners with sectarian slogans such as “the blood of Sunnis is boiling,” “Iran’s project will not go through Tripoli,” and “Miqati, the Shiite dog.”

In Beirut, they blocked streets as well as the north-south roads connecting the capital to Tripoli and Sidon. Highways to Syria through the Beka’a valley were likewise cut. By Tuesday’s end, 45 people had been wounded, 35 of them Lebanese Army soldiers.

March 14 had successfully unleashed a tide of ugly sectarianism that rocked the country.

 “Tripoli has said its word” was Hariri’s reply to the street thuggary he instigated.

Highlightening American’s duplicity in its treat to cut off aid to Lebanon after March 8 nominated the prime minister, Nasrallah commented:

“ … had the situation been reversed with the other camp’s candidate being appointed as prime minister and with opposition supporters heading to the streets, we would have heard condemnations from Washington and Western capitals … Why do you respect that [March 14] majority and not this one?”

If Hariri is the victim of anything, it is the transient nature of power in a democratic system. Anything but the statesman, he instead threw a nationwide temper-tantrum.

Lebanon’s June 2009 legislative elections brought the March 14 coalition to power, thanks only to Lebanon’s sectarian distribution of seats. They unambiguously lost the popular vote, however, which March 8 handily won. One-and-a-half-years later, the people’s mandate has been realized.

Addendum: Miqati held two days of consultations with parliamentary blocs and former prime ministers. His meeting with Hariri lasted no more than three minutes. According to a late AFP report, the Future Movement and the rest of March 14 will boycott the new administration.

Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.

 

 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman
Peter Lee
Making Sense of China’s Stock Market Meltdown