Lebanese President Michel Aoun tasked former prime minister Saad Hariri on October 22 with forming a government, but the powerful Hezbollah movement has been delaying the process.
Hariri, whose previous government resigned a year ago in response to popular protests, obtained the support of a majority in parliament in a recent consultative session. If he succeeds in his mission, he will head his third government since 2009.
Marc Saad, spokesman to the international press for the Christian Lebanese Forces party, told The Media Line that the process of forming a government had not changed in years.
“Hezbollah not only has the biggest role and the biggest say, the organization is literally running the show while watching for the smallest details to ensure its interests are secured,” he said.
The delay does not really matter to the decision-makers despite the fact that it is hurting the Lebanese people, who are suffering in their daily lives as Hezbollah pursues a different agenda, Saad explained.
“Even after the apocalyptic bomb explosion of August 4 [in Beirut’s port], Hezbollah didn’t care about time or the goals of the awaited new government. Instead the organization imposed its own conditions and realigned the rules for formation with their expectations,” he said.
“Look at the failed effort of [previous prime minister-designate] Mustapha Adib: Hezbollah was able to secure the Finance Ministry and asked to name other Shia ministers, but Adib refused and resigned,” Saad explained.
Adib, who was nominated to form a government after prime minister Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of the port explosion, was unable to fulfill his mandate due to political divisions and unrest. He returned the mandate to Aoun on September 26.
Last January, Diab formed a government of technocrats after Hariri and his government resigned over the economic protests the previous October.
Saad says Hezbollah will agree to form a government only if it holds the reigns to more than a third of the cabinet, with foreign affairs under its control and the security portfolios under its influence.
“We believe that [a] new government should focus on speedy measures to stem the economic collapse, rebuild Beirut and work on delivering electricity. But the parties involved in the formation of a government are not concerned about these issues,” he stated.”
Saad added that even if Hariri could affect a particular concession or alliance between the ruling powers, he should have the ability to form a government of technocrats, with a shared vision and goals, as well as the determination to deliver.
“What matters today is the people, and Hezbollah should take its concerns to the parliament, where the sovereign power resides,” he said.
A Hezbollah spokesperson did not respond to repeated inquiries from The Media Line.
Last month, Hariri announced that he would form a cabinet composed of “non-partisan specialists,” in line with a proposal laid out by French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron demanded serious political reforms for Lebanon if he is to head an international group of donor nations tasked with extricating Lebanon from its dire economic condition.
The French president visited Beirut immediately after the devastating port explosion. He returned in early September and announced an initiative, stipulating the formation of a government that would undertake reform according to a specific program in return for financial assistance from the international community.
Imad al-Hout, head of the Islamic Group party’s political office and a former lawmaker, told The Media Line that the process of forming a government came under very complex circumstances. He cited a loss of confidence in the political class “as a result of the accumulation of mismanagement and corruption for many years, which translates into the movement of October 17, 2019.”
He was referring to the nationwide street protests that broke out last fall and led to Hariri’s resignation. The protests are also known locally as the “October Revolution.”
Demonstrators initially took aim at the proposed implementation of taxes on gasoline, tobacco and VoIP calls on apps such as WhatsApp. However, they quickly turned their attention toward the entire political system, as well as at Iran, the patron of Hezbollah.
Hout says that the priority of the coming government should be to restore the confidence of citizens while dealing with the economic situation through a group of ministers who are competent, have clean hands and work according to a clear program of reforms.
“What is happening now is the opposite of that,” he stated.
“We are witnessing a clear effort by the Lebanese political forces to form a government according to the logic of quotas divided among them,” he said, referring to Lebanon’s deeply entrenched sectarian political system.
He called it “an attempt [by politicians] to keep themselves afloat… after they were sent into disarray by the demands of the people.” He also called on political forces to “withdraw from the government arena,” and for the “formation of a government of independent elements.”
Hout said that some parties want to postpone the government’s formation until after the US presidential election is resolved, hoping that American pressure on Lebanon might diminish and the balance of forces changes.
“Hezbollah is a Lebanese political component like the rest of the [country’s] political components, and as such it plays a similar role in the process of facilitating or disrupting the formation of the new government,” he noted. “But since it has a greater organizational, financial and political capacity than the rest of the political components, its influence is undoubtedly greater than the rest.”
Alain Sarkis, a political analyst for the Nida al-Watan newspaper in Beirut, notes another major difference between Hezbollah and the country’s other parties.
“The organization is armed… and is supported by Iran,” he told The Media Line.
“In addition, Hezbollah has a parliamentary majority and enjoys the support of the presidency. The organization managed to sabotage Macron’s initiative by not letting go of the Finance Ministry although the Lebanese constitution does not specify any portfolio for a particular sect,” Sarkis continued.
“France is also busy now with the latest [violent] incidents [committed by Islamists after the publication of cartoons allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed],” he noted.
Sarkis warned, however, that in light of the suffering in the Lebanese street, delaying the formation of a government could backfire domestically.