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Did Lebanon’s Mikati jump off Assad’s drowning boat?

Mazen Hayek

Published: Updated:

“Mikati jumps off Bashar al-Assad's boat,” is a title that topped a Lebanese newspaper linked to the Lebanon’s Future Movement the morning after the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

The analysis stated: “Mikati took his decision yesterday (March 22, 2013) when he made sure that Bashar al-Assad has just short while left in power, and witnessed the change in the American and European stances on Syria; he chose the time to jump off Assad’s drowning boat, and returned the government’s keys to the one who handed them to him.”

It may be too early to tell whether Mikati is the winner or the 'biggest loser,' after everything that happened before and after his resignation

Mazen Hayek

At first glance, these words seem to condemn the resigning president, but in fact, they exonerated him, especially after President Assad’s last speech where he strongly criticized Mikati’s “distancing” policy from the Syrian crisis. Mikati could not convince everyone of the strength of this policy, in particular Hezbollah that chose to get involved in the Syrian conflict.

Distancing policy

Did Mikati really jump off Assad’s boat or he was not even onboard, at least within the past two years? Mikati succeeded in getting international support for his distancing policy when decision-making countries had also distanced themselves from the Syrian conflict. Mikati’s policy coincided with fulfilling Lebanon's international obligations, respecting international sanctions on Syria (and Iran), supporting the international effort to combat terrorism and money laundering, and preserving the relation with the Gulf countries that boycotted “Hezbollah’s government.” This was the contrary of what others had wished, mainly President Assad.

Mikati a winner?

Another question imposes itself on the accuracy of the belief that Assad overthrew Prime Minister Hariri through the black shirts tactic, in order to appoint his “friend” Mikati. Seemingly, Mikati accepted becoming prime minister on the heels of “a coup,” even though he knew that his government will not follow his own commands.
Nevertheless, he quickly averted the danger and hanged on to moderation and distancing policies, instead of showing the expected solidarity with the Syrian regime, seeking to alleviate the regime’s isolation.

It may be too early to tell whether Mikati is the winner or the “biggest loser,” after everything that happened before and after his resignation, during the formation of the government. What is certain is that the answer is interrelated, one way or another, to whether Assad’s boat will sink soon, as asserted by that newspaper, or whether it will float again.

This article was first published in Lebanon-based Annahar on April 26, 2013.

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Mazen Hayek is a MarComms & Media practitioner in MENA; weekly op-ed columnist in Annahar Lebanon, he can be followed on Twitter: @HayekMG

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