FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

 

 

Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
Binoy Kampmark
Source Betrayed: the Washington Post and Edward Snowden
John W. Whitehead
Wards of the Nanny State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail