Prime Minister designee Saad Hariri resigned, with former PM Najib Mikati taking up the mantel as the new designee. Mikati, a billionaire and political establishment insider, is more of the same for a Lebanese people crying out for change.
After over eight months of numerous unsuccessful attempts to convince Lebanese President Michael Aoun to accept a number of cabinet lineups, Hariri announced that he will be stepping down. Hariri’s resignation triggered another round of mandatory parliamentary consolations with President Aoun, which ended with 72 members of Parliament naming Mikati as the new Prime Minster designee.
Mikati who has formed two cabinets in the past, might not necessarily form his third cabinet, as his naming as prime minister designee does not mean he will succeed where others failed.
Mikati, a billionaire who has been accused of making his $2.6 billion fortune in a number of illicit ways, is no different from Saad Hariri or the other rich Sunni politicians who aspire to enter the not-so-prestigious club of premier. His naming, however, can possibly yield a new cabinet, as President Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil have made it clear that they have a personal feud with Saad Hariri and are willing to work with anyone else towards forming the next cabinet.
However, if one is to indulge in this logic, why would Mikati succeed where Hariri has failed. The same obstacles which led to Saad Hariri failing are still present, as Aoun and Bassil are still commanding the blocking third in the cabinet. Furthermore, Bassil remains unwavering in his demand for his faction controlling the ministry of the interior, which will supervise the upcoming parliamentary elections slated in Spring of 2022. If Aoun has a personal problem with Hariri, he will face a tougher opponent with Mikati whose experience has showed is unwilling to commit political suicide by forming a government similar to the one the current PM Hassan Diab heads.
Yet, the main challenge Mikati faces goes beyond simple horse trading, something in which his underhanded political career demonstrates a degree of proficiency in, but rather lies in the fact that any cabinet he might potentially lead will lack the popular support of the Lebanese and, more importantly, the international community, who are beyond convinced that no real change can come at the hands of the ruling elite. In reality, Mikati, who was the business partner of Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, is also implicated in a number of financial scandals and thus is literally part of the problem – he or any of the so-called elite cannot possibly model themselves as reformers .
Above all, PM Mikatit was in office when the infamous ship Rhosus, which transported the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate responsible for the August 4 Beirut port blast, docked in Lebanon in November 2013. Bringing Mikati back to power will certainly impede the search for justice – a process which thus far has proved to be frustrating and unproductive.
Coincidently, Mikati wishes to repeat his first stint as a premier when in 2005, after the resignation of PM Omar Karami, he was tasked to form an independent cabinet which supervised the elections and to contain the repercussions of the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri. In 2005, however, Lebanon was still not fully occupied by Iran’s proxy Hezbollah and, more importantly, many of the Arabian Gulf states still looked at Lebanon as a country worth salvaging, something which is very hard to argue at this stage.
The renaming of Mikati to form a government is itself enough proof that the Lebanese political establishment are blind to the repercussions of not passing key structural reforms and, more importantly, reclaim its sovereignty from Hezbollah’s overindulgence in Iran’s regional expansionist project.
Perhaps more importantly, Mikati is well known to appease Hezbollah, which will further alienate the international community and Gulf states, whose financial largesse is needed if Lebanon wishes to decelerate its downfall. Hezbollah would be happy to accept a cabinet headed by Mikati as cover for its continued siphoning of goods, subsidized products and gasoline into Syria. Yet Hezbollah are in no rush to offer any serious concessions which might be perceived by the West as a sign of weakness. Equally, Hezbollah will continue to allow Bassil and Aoun to play their game of demanding the unfeasible as it simply reinforces the claims that Lebanon’s problems are not rooted in Hezbollah’s violence, but rather in the archaic political sectarian system.
At this stage, Mikati will enter into a new round of horse-trading with different political parties, trying to win over more seats to their advantage. The ultimate outcome will not change given the present circumstances, however, as Lebanon is a rogue state, and its political elite have failed both morally and politically to run the country.
Bringing back Mikati or any other political insider to the forefront and branding them as a saviors is nothing short of a farce, one which Lebanon needs to avoid at all costs if it is climb out of its pit of despair.
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