For the past three months, the dispute over the formation of the Lebanese government seemed to revolve around two axes: the president’s clash with the prime minister and his jurisdictions and role, and the president’s and his son-in-law’s confrontation with the Lebanese Forces.
For several months it appeared that the president and not Hariri, who is the prime minister-designate, is the one who is forming the government. According to the constitution, the prime minister-designate is the one who forms the cabinet in consultation with heads of the parliamentary blocs. He then presents the cabinet formation to the president who in turn issues a decree and transfers the matter to the parliament to discuss the cabinet’s ministerial statement and vote on it.
Presidential spokesmen, however claimed that the president does not only sign the decree but is a participant in government formation. Former prime ministers Fouad Seniora, Tammam Salam and Najib Mikati and constitutional jurists have said that norms and traditions (like those related to the President’s quota) were not considered, and the word is for the parliament hence there is no need for control by the president, or else what is the role of the parliament?!
Three months ago, those close to Hezbollah told me that Hezbollah does not want a government in Lebanon. I said that this is irrational as Hezbollah is besieged and sanctions on it and on Iran are increasingRadwan al-Sayed
President versus parliament
Anyway, it seems that Hariri satisfied the president by giving him the right to appoint a Sunni figure from his party as a minister, as it was in the first government. Thus, the debate over the president’s quota fizzled out. Over the past two months, however, a public debate raged between Gebran Bassil, who is Aoun’s son-in-law, and Samir Geagea over the Lebanese Forces’ share in the government. They violently and publicly argued over these two issues: the quota of each of the two parties according to the results of the elections, and the written agreement between both parties in Maarab (2015-2016).
The written agreement states that the ministries and the general directorates of the Christians would be divided in half between them and the Muslims. According to the Lebanese Forces’ calculation, they should have four or five Christian ministers and a deputy prime minister.
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After long acrimonious exchanges between the two parties and after Walid Jumblatt stopped insisting on choosing the three Druze minister and got convinced to give the president the right to choose the third Druze minister, the Lebanese Forces were forced to accept three ministers and a deputy prime minister. This is in addition to accepting their ministries be of third degree and not to include any important ministries, like the ministry of justice, education or public works!
Anyhow, after clearing all obstacles, the government would now be formed. However, Hezbollah had surprised everyone by calling for appointing a Sunni minister from among the Sunni MPs who are not part of Hariri’s bloc. Hezbollah said that they nominate Faisal Karami. The other surprise was that Hariri and the president refused this under the pretext that these independent Sunnis who were elected do not represent a bloc but they are only factions, adding that some of those allied with Hezbollah won in the elections via non-Sunni votes thanks to the proportional electoral law that was adopted during this year’s elections!
Iran’s remote control
Three months ago, those close to Hezbollah told me that Hezbollah does not want a government in Lebanon. I said that this is irrational as Hezbollah is besieged and sanctions on it and on Iran are increasing, and although it is true that Hezbollah controls Lebanon, the coming months are dangerous hence the government cover, though being transparent, benefits it and does not harm it, as everyone is submissive and they have, for the last two years, challenged the Americans, the Europeans and international laws for Hezbollah’s sake.
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A few days ago, the UN Secretary General said that Hezbollah could drag Lebanon into war, and that the government should disarm it according to UN resolution 1559. Meanwhile, the president and the prime minister kept saying that Hezbollah does not use its weapons internally!
All these considerations are not part of Hezbollah’s priorities, as there are Iranian considerations that control its decisions. Iran believes that there should be no government in Lebanon that would have to implement the sanctions imposed by Trump’s administration and which would require procedures by the banks and the government.
Those who know the Lebanese president and the prime minister-designate also know that they accept all the demands of Hezbollah, even if it may seem detrimental to national interests. As for Hezbollah and Iran they still believe that holding on to Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq is beneficial for them in challenging the West and negotiating with it at the same time. Although the international community is concerned that a government has not been formed, observers argue that even if the government is formed, it will not solve the national burdens and might even complicate them.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Radwan al Sayed is a Lebanese thinker and writer who attained a bachelor degree from the Faculty of Theology at al-Azhar University and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tübingen in Germany. He has been a scholar of Islamic studies for decades and is the former editor-in-chief of the quarterly al-Ijtihad magazine. Radwan is also the author of many books and has written for Arab dailies such as al-Ittihad, al-Hayat and Asharq al-Awsat.