Lebanon’s political bubble: Mikati’s resignation leaves bitter aftertaste

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Described by many political observers as an inevitable move, the resignation of Lebanon’s Najib Mikati late Friday has left a bitter aftertaste across the country’s political scene.

Much like a father figure, appearing to have taken a big step back from a few bickering family members, Mikati said he was stepping down for major political blocks in Lebanon to “take responsibility.”

“I announce the resignation of the government, hoping that this will open the way for the major political blocs to take responsibility and come together to bring Lebanon out of the unknown,” Mikati said.

The speech came after a political standoff with Hezbollah, a militant and political movement that has dominated Lebanese politics in recent years, and its allies. Hezbollah had blocked the extension of the Internal Security Forces chief’s term in office and the creation of a body to supervise parliamentary elections that are set for June.

“Mikati’s disagreement with Hezbollah was not the first,” writes Washington-based analyst on Middle Eastern affairs Joyce Karam.

“In his 20 months as Prime Minister, they clashed over Hezbollah’s refusal to fund the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and to strengthen the country’s security apparatus and lately over the Syrian government violations inside Lebanon.”

The government had held off agreeing on the membership of the election commission over fears it would ensure that elections scheduled for June are held on the basis of a decades-old electoral law. Mikati, along with the leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, Walid Jumblatt, is said to favor the existing law. It gives his Sunni community and the Druze disproportionate strength in the parliament, but is vehemently opposed by Lebanon’s Christians, who say it fails to give them representative weight.

Attempts earlier this year to approve an alternative election law failed, and both Mikati and President Michel Sleiman had called for election preparations to move forward so the vote can be held on time.

National cohesiveness?

And while these attempts deepened political quagmires, Mikati essentially struggled with Lebanon’s divides that crippled his efforts to navigate the country between Hezbollah and the country’s Sunni community. His hopes to swerve Lebanon onto a course of neutrality appeared to swiftly fizzling out.

Mikati was appointed in the midst of this fray in 2011 after Hezbollah and its allies brought down the unity government of Saad al-Hariri.

“For Mikati, the prominent businessman from the city of Tripoli, this move [his resignation] was almost inevitable,” says Karam.

“Frustrations inside his political base in Tripoli and in the Sunni street at large have been displayed in military clashes and increasing radicalization in the community,” she added.

While Mikati appears to have calmly backed away from the scene, with Sleiman accepting his resignation on Saturday, the political bubble will continue to grow as uncertainty engulfs Lebanon.

The resignation has already been slammed by Free Patriotic Movement Leader MP Michel Aoun who described the motives behind Mikati’s decision as “silly” and accused President Sleiman of being dictatorial over the thorny issue of the elections supervisory committee.

“The reasons behind Mikati’s resignation are dumb and Sleiman behaved like a dictator in trying to impose the formation of the committee to oversee the upcoming elections,” he told the country’s Sawt al-Mada radio station. Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc enjoys a majority of seats in the government.

On the streets of Lebanon after the announcement, Beirut resident Ahmad Mahmoud told Reuters news agency Mikati's government had wavered over important decisions.

“I see it as normal. With the major issues, this government hasn't done anything, it was hesitating. In my opinion, there is something going on from outside, some ambassadors implied Prime Minister Mikati should resign,'' he said.

“It's the same, with or without the government's resignation, the country is carrying on. It will stay the same as it was, it won't change,” added resident Issam Saleh.

Major General Ashraf Rifi, head of Lebanon's internal security forces, is due to retire early next month. Rifi, like Mikati, is a Sunni Muslim from Tripoli, and is distrusted by Hezbollah.

In an interview earlier this year with Al Arabiya English’s editor-in-chief Faisal Abbas, Mikati said he took the premier post to defuse tensions between rival political factions in Lebanon, a goal “I can humbly claim that I have achieved,” he said.

“Today, with the deterioration in the Syrian situation and the political crisis prevailing, any miscalculated exit might lead to another political crisis,” Mikati added in the interview.

*Davos exclusive: Lebanese PM Mikati on economy, regional politics and Syrian crisis

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