DAMASCUS - All is fair in love, war - and politics. That is what the old saying
says, and that is what theoretically should apply to Lebanon.
The toppling of prime minister Saad al-Hariri was a brilliant game of power
politics, carried out by the Hezbollah-led opposition. Hezbollah agreed to join
the Hariri cabinet in 2009 on one condition: that it pledged to protect and
maintain the arms of the Lebanese resistance.
That was clearly breached by Hariri when he refused to distance himself from
the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is scheduled to issue indictments
in February, naming Hezbollah
members in connection with the 2005 murder of his father, Rafik al-Hariri.
The opposition tried, to no avail, to reach a deal with Hariri. They promised
to maintain and empower him as prime minister, protecting him within his own
Sunni constituency. They promised never to use Hezbollah arms internally and to
deal with the issue of false witnesses, which has kept the ex-prime minister
awake at night.
Those witnesses, some being his most senior advisors, had lied under oath and
obstructed justice in the Hariri affair, with the aim of implicating both
Hezbollah and Syria. If Hariri made a u-turn on the STL, the opposition
promised to allow bygones to be bygones and declare a truce that would last
until the upcoming parliamentary elections took place in 2013.
Hariri was reportedly on the verge of agreeing to "all of the above" and to
distancing himself and his country, legally, financially and politically from
the hated STL.
Then, something happened in New York, when Hariri met a colorful array of US
politicians while visiting the King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was receiving
medical treatment. Headed by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern
Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, these US officials talked him into a u-turn not on the
STL but on the Syrian-Saudi initiative for Lebanon.
By the first week of January, two things were very clear for the Lebanese prime
minister. One, given what he had heard in the US, there was no longer any need
to do anything about the STL. Second, those indictments, probably to Hariri's
pleasure, were going to name senior Hezbollah figures in the murder of his
As a result, 11 members of the Hezbollah-led opposition walked out on the prime
minister while he was visiting President Barack Obama in Washington, thereby
bringing down his cabinet. There was nothing illegal in how they toppled the
Lebanese premier. No Hezbollah warriors took to the streets, threatening to
bring him down by force. What was actually horrendous was how Hariri reacted to
his thundering and swift crash.
Rather than accept it with a democratic heart, he sent his hoodlums to northern
Lebanon, where they barbarically rioted, injured people, destroyed public
property, and burned pictures of his replacement, incoming Prime Minister Najib
Mikati. A more civilized attitude, no doubt, would have been expected from the
40-year-old Georgetown-educated billionaire who for years had ostensibly
supported entrepreneurship, business, and dialogue. Last week, however, he
sounded and looked more like a gangster walking out of an Al Capone movie than
a statesman or prime minister.
Hariri's replacement Mikati began consultations on Thursday to create a cabinet
of political independents and technocrats like the one he presided over for 90
days in 2005. The ex-premier's March 14 Alliance has already announced that it
will not join a cabinet that is not headed by Hariri.
Furious at being ejected from office with little respect or ceremony, Hariri
cried foul play, claiming that this was a Hezbollah coup, drumming up street
anger by flaring confessional rhetoric that says; "A Shi'ite is getting to name
the Sunni prime minister of Lebanon!"
Different players in March 14 are angry for different reasons. Ex-warlord Samir
Gagea, for example, is furious, suddenly finding himself and the Lebanese
Forces (LF) out of government and facing a very disgruntled Lebanese public. He
realizes that with Hariri out of power and no longer commanding the upper hand
in Beirut politics, the LF has no business in maintaining its ties to the
They had nothing in common to start out with, with Gagea being a radical
sectarian Maronite politician who loathed Hariri's father for having kept him
behind bars throughout the 1990s. Ex-president Amin Gemayel, also a one-time
Hariri ally, is also recalculating: he needed Hariri to share in power - there
is no sense in sharing the opposition with him. Other March 14 heavyweights,
like Druze member of parliament Walid Jumblatt, have already abandoned Hariri,
switching into the Hezbollah-led opposition and voting for Mikati.
To avoid creating further tension, Hezbollah will soon announce that it also
does not want representation in the Mikati government to prevent a "one-color
cabinet" from emerging. Among the names earmarked for posts are men like Karam
Karam, a respected physician; ex-health minister Michel Samaha, an influential
ex-information minister who was a ranking member of the Lebanese Phalange; and
Mohammad al-Safadi, a member of parliament from Tripoli.
Clearly, a certain wing in Saudi Arabia is unimpressed with Mikati replacing
Hariri in the premiership, and will work hard at making the new prime
minister's job a very difficult one.
This wing of Hariri-backers includes Crown Prince Sultan; his son, the former
Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar; and Foreign Minister Prince Saud
al-Faisal. Strongly allied to Egypt, whose President Hosni Mubarak remains
radically anti-Syrian, these Saudi politicians are eager to settle an old score
with Hezbollah and all of them are furious at being outflanked in Lebanon.
The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, thinks differently, and so does his son
Prince Abdul-Aziz, who played the go-between in Syrian-Lebanese relations in
recent months. It was the former group that saw the king's illness in late 2010
as a blessing in disguise - especially since he was on the verge of declaring
success in the Syrian-Saudi Initiative.
With Hezbollah having swiftly toppled Hariri, they feel that they have been
muscled down in Lebanon by the Lebanese opposition, Iran and Syria - and are
very bitter about it.
Mohammad al-Safadi, the Tripoli member of parliament who has plenty of business
investment in Saudi Arabia, refused to vote for Saad al-Hariri in the recent
cabinet formation talks with President Michel Suleiman.
Effectively he stood up and said no to the pro-Egyptian camp in the Saudi royal
family. So did Walid Jumblatt. The two men voted at will, irrespective of the
political consequences this would have on their relationship with Hariri, Saudi
Arabia, or the United States.
If anything, this proves that unlike Hariri, who allowed himself to be
manipulated by the radical branch in Saudi Arabia, different Lebanese players
are starting to mature and take national decisions based on what they see as
best for Lebanon, rather than what other players want for Lebanon.
This explains why so many different players, at different political levels,
wanted to drown the Syrian-Saudi Initiative for Lebanon. A u-turn on the STL,
which was completely within reach, would have spelled out disaster for their
political program in Beirut. In looking back, they probably now realize that
they were mistaken, because in reality, what they did was give Saad al-Hariri
enough rope to hang himself.