Hariri is Returning to the Grand Serail

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Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri waves at the crowd at a 2011 event for the March 14 political coalition. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Monday, February 23, 2015

The progress made so far indicates that the situation is much better than what is being disseminated. Thus, it is fair to say that the Future Movement is seemingly intent on yielding results, and is demonstrating a willingness to make compromises, which may be a source of embarrassment to the movement if its supporters discover the meetings’ details. This is not a case of betrayal or disregard on Future’s part, but rather a direction that differs from the line it has followed over many years. Certainly, this new direction contradicts all the boisterous talk by some of its leaders, which are described by some as the party’s “hawks,” although it is a modest party that can accommodate neither hawks nor doves.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is keen to avoid anything that may lead to the cessation of the dialogue. Thus, he reminded his team that the dialogue does not cover the Resistance’s weapons or Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria, but is limited to resolvable internal issues, such as personal weapons in the cities, security plans that need to be applied equally in all areas, and other contentious issues concerning the capital, the cities and regions. Thus, all parties hope to reach an understanding on matters that may ease tension, such as toning down media campaigns and provocation, cooperating through the ministries, and agreeing on mechanisms to manage government action and related legislative activities.

Hariri wants the dialogue to result in an agreement, which would allow the resolution of various internal issues and resumption of government activity irrespective of regional events. Regarding external issues, Hariri’s main concern is Hezbollah’s participation in the conflict in Syria and its handling of the southern issue. In this regard, an informed politician close to Hariri says that the latter, “without saying so, is counting on Hezbollah’s wisdom in handling these issues.”

As for Hezbollah, the party is required to clarify its position in advance, which is that the party’s strategic arms and involvement in Syria are not subject to discussion. Concerning the presidential file, the party delegation should explicitly say the following: “We want to see the election of a president, today before tomorrow. We know that the state needs a head, and that the presence of a president facilitates the work of the government and helps regulate the work of institutions. We also know that there are external and internal effects, which play a major role in the election of the new president. For things to be clear from our side, and despite our keenness on the election of a new president, we express our firm position — which is not an attempt at maneuvering — that General Michel Aoun is our sole presidential candidate, and we will not accept any other [candidate]. And should Aoun decide to take another course, we have a clearer position, which is that we will not accept a president Aoun does not approve of. To avoid any controversy, with regards to the presidential file, we stand behind Michel Aoun. It would be best for the rest of the parties to approach him to discuss this matter. We are going to support whatever he decides.”

As for the other issues, Hezbollah has exhibited openness towards all proposals. The party proposed steps to facilitate the implementation of agreements pertaining to the removal of political symbols and flags; the end of all forms of armed manifestations; the complete cessation of media campaigns; helping to hand over wanted persons, including a member of the (Hezbollah-affiliated) Lebanese Resistance Brigades; and providing the adequate popular and operational ground to enable the implementation of permanent security plans in areas where the party enjoys influence.

Why is the dialogue now productive?

What will not be said at the dialogue table, nor in statements and fiery speeches, is that Hariri — in his capacity as the main Sunni leader — is considering what needs to be done to prevent further losses at the Lebanese level, based on a clear decision backed by the United States and Britain (excluding France) to maintain stability in Lebanon. He is also relying on a change, albeit a slow one, on the part of Saudi Arabia in the it deals with the regional issues.

Hariri’s approach is informed by the fact that Saudi Arabia and its allies have refrained from getting directly involved in managing the battle. So far, Riyadh has opted to rely on parties with which it has no direct association, and which it would not be compelled to openly support against other parties. This is what happened in Iraq and Syria through its support of armed groups, including the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, the Army of Islam, and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions. The same happened in Yemen, through its support of various political forces, which can be easily denied when necessary. In Lebanon, the Saudis followed the same approach by adopting a prime minister who does not directly represent them, but is unable to act beyond their authority.

Saudi Arabia’s approach differs from that of its opponents. Some, even in the Future Movement, see the situation as follows: Iran is fighting directly and playing its strongest hands, such as former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the popular forces in Iraq, President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, not to mention its allies in Bahrain and other Arab countries.

The Future Movement received signs of a Saudi change of policy, whereby Future is required to act directly through its powerful elements. In Lebanon, this would call for bringing Hariri back to the forefront. Thus, the primary mission today is Hariri’s return as prime minister and his direct management of these issues. This requires many steps, most notably reaching an understanding with Hezbollah, considering that it is the other party that has the power to veto ministerial decisions. It is also the party that removed Hariri from power, and holds the key to his return to the Grand Serail.

Hariri's return to Beirut is intended to pave the way for his return to power. He will be obliged to make many compromises — regarding his party’s ties with Islamic groups, the situation within the Future Movement itself, and the relationship with the March 14 forces, particularly the Christian factions. In this regard, Hariri will be obliged to form a clear relationship with the Lebanese Forces, taking into account the reaction of the other Christian figures who fear being excluded.

On the other hand, Hariri knows that he is required to extend the dialogue to other parties: with General Aoun to resolve the issue of the presidential void; with House Speaker Nabih Berri and the broad political alliance that would allow the formation of a wide consensus government; with MP Walid Jumblatt to mend ties with him, even if temporarily; and with Hezbollah, who have the final say. Therefore, Hariri is dealing with the potential results of the dialogue with Hezbollah in a realistic manner. If his goal is to return to head the cabinet, he should sidestep the mines that can blow up everything.

On the return trip to the cabinet, a price should be paid before reaping the big gift. These prices and sacrifices are in his team’s hands. The fate of MP Khaled Daher may just be the beginning.

Ibrahim al-Amin is the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Akhbar.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar English's editorial policy. If you would like to submit a thoughtful response to one of our opinion pieces, send your contribution to our submissions editor.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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