September 10th, 2009
04:16 PM ET

And the loser is....Lebanon

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/09/10/lebanon.hariri/art.hariri.afp.gi.jpg caption="Saad Hariri said he will discuss taking the position of Lebanon's prime minister with his allies."]

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

The news out of Lebanon today was loud but not clear. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri “declined” to form another cabinet after his proposed one was rejected by the country’s opposition. He “quit,” according to news wires; others wrote that he “stepped down” and he “resigned.” Still, others described the Lebanese billionaire’s decision not to submit another cabinet line-up as “giving up.”

With very few exceptions, the summary of a critical moment in Lebanon’s complex political landscape was reduced to an underlying message that Hariri is a “loser” who “failed” to form a national unity government. A natural expectation follows that now someone else will “succeed” where Hariri “failed.” But, anyone with good knowledge of Lebanon – its regional role and its stature in the world – should know better.

The same groups who wanted us to believe that the Hezbollah-backed opposition was heading toward a clear win in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections in June, want us to believe today that Saad Hariri is “quitting” and “stepping down” or “resigning” from forming a government.

The fact is that Saad Hariri is only the Prime Minister-designate. That means he becomes Prime Minister only when his cabinet gets approval from President Michel Sleiman and then the vote of Lebanon’s parliament. According to the constitution, the Premier-designate can present as many cabinet combinations as necessary to secure all approvals.

In Lebanon the formula differs from any other parliamentary system because of the division of power among the country’s religions and sects. With a major win in the parliamentary elections, Hariri’s bloc, known as ‘March 14,’ gets to nominate its candidate to form the government and lead it. This will not change. Lebanon’s next PM will be a Muslim Sunni who belongs to the ‘March 14’ bloc or will be its designee.

The opposition, which is made up mainly of Muslim Shiite groups and supporters of Christian Maronite former General Michel Aoun, has been demanding key cabinet portfolios and imposing names for these cabinets. One main name that is “not negotiable” says Aoun, is his own son-in-law, Gibran Bassil, for Ministry of Interior. Bassil ran for the parliamentary elections and lost in his district.

When Hariri presented his cabinet selection to President Sleiman earlier this week after negotiations that lasted more than two months, he made it clear that if this cabinet was not approved, he would “decline” from forming a government. What this meant then and means now, is that he believes the opposition is playing hardball and he intends to do the same.

His announcement today that he told the President he would “decline from forming a government,” confirms those plans.

This is a political position, some might call it maneuvering. After all, it is Hariri’s bloc that will designate the next Prime Minister and the same cabinet is likely to be proposed. Hariri himself might end up as Premier-designate and it shouldn’t be a surprise if he re-submits the same cabinet.

The bottom line is that with his “declining to form a government” Hariri added his group’s deadlock to an already existing opposition deadlock. The only guarantee at this point is that no government will be formed under these conditions.

While on the surface, this might seem a normal process in any other parliamentary system, in Lebanon, this means the circus continues, and personal politics plays a role in the nation’s future and its people.

Who’s the biggest loser, you ask? None other than the great nation of Lebanon, home of the majestic Cedars and birthplace of Kahlil Gibran. Today, like many other important milestones in history, Lebanon stands to pay the price of personal preferences and political games. While Lebanese politicians play hardball, the people of Lebanon are divided – some cheer on the politicians, while many others watch from the sidelines wanting only to live, prosper and keep pace with world.

Follow Octavia on Twitter @OctaviaNasrCNN

Filed under: Global 360° • Octavia Nasr
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    And I thought politics was a mess here! Sounds like Lebanon has it worse than we do. Seems like compromise is a word that has gone out of fashion. I hope for the people of Lebanon and other countries with this problem that someone reintroduces the concept of negotiation and compromise. To just quit because he didn't get his cabinet he proposed says to me that he is in it for himself and not to help his country.

    September 10, 2009 at 4:38 pm |
  2. susan

    And we thought partisanship was bad in Washington!

    September 10, 2009 at 4:21 pm |

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