Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s return to Lebanon set off a flurry of rumors that an agreement is nigh on a consensus president. While positive indicators have raised hopes in this regard, Hariri’s return has as much to do with the rising threat of terrorism, which, along with other regional and international factors, threatens to shoot down any new agreement.
On a positive note, a parliamentary source from the March 14 coalition said there may be a surprise Wednesday during the parliamentary session scheduled to elect a president, resulting from an important breakthrough and the renewal of communication between various political groups. This surprise may be the proposal of several consensus candidates as a prelude to electing a neutral president from neither March 8 nor March 14.
However, according to informed sources, conditions on the internal and regional level are still not encouraging.
On the domestic front, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michael Aoun still must be dissuaded from pursuing his dream of becoming president, a dream he still considers very plausible. Aoun controls the biggest voting bloc in Parliament, so his cooperation is key.
His ally, Hezbollah, is satisfied with this current state of affairs, as it is in no rush to elect a president and prefers to devote its energies to its battle in Syria, keeping in mind that it still holds the power to undermine the election.
Regionally, matters have become more complicated as Saudi Arabia seeks to boost its role in Lebanon while continuing its cold war against Iran and Syria. Tehran and Damascus, for their part, still consider Lebanon vital to the “resistance axis,” and are ready to do what they must to disrupt the work of state institutions and further their own agendas.
Of course, Hariri will have a hand in any solution on this level, but only after the Maronite leaders have agreed on an appropriate candidate. In fact, according to high-placed diplomatic sources, and despite what March 8 assumes, Hariri returned to Lebanon out of concern for the country following the events in Arsal and Tripoli, which are linked to the war in Syria. Some Western ambassadors in Beirut have also voiced their desire to see Lebanon distance itself from regional turmoil, but this has yet to be translated on the ground through state institutions.
King Abdullah’s call to Arab and Muslim countries to fight terrorism led him to task Hariri with overseeing the spending of a $1 billion Saudi grant to the Lebanese Army and security forces in order to provide them with the necessary weapons and gear.
He has reportedly charged Hariri with shoring up the moderate Sunni base in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, a source close to Hezbollah said the party needs some time to study its next steps, despite announcing that Hariri’s return heralds the possibility of striking an internal agreement to resolve several outstanding files.