BEIRUT: The formation of the new government is an achievement for all of Lebanon and has returned the country to a time when Hezbollah did not have a veto over Cabinet policy, the Future Movement’s secretary-general told The Daily Star.
Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria will also guarantee the party’s military defeat and herald its end as a powerful force in Lebanon, Ahmad Hariri said.
In an interview with The Daily Star hours after the announcement of a new Lebanese government Saturday, Hariri discussed his party’s policy priorities, the coming battle over the ministerial policy statement, presidential elections, relations with Hezbollah and the start of trial at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Hariri described the Cabinet formation as “an achievement for all the Lebanese” who had suffered due to the instability brought about by Hezbollah’s participation in the war in Syria.
He said the Future Movement agreed to join the Cabinet to ensure presidential elections happened on time. While the Cabinet does not have a “magic wand,” he said, it will strive to stop the social, economic and security decline in Lebanon.
Hariri also said the Cabinet formation had major political implications. The new government ended the era of what he described as the “coup government” of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, returning Lebanon to what he called the “pre-May 7” era.
Hezbollah fighters seized control of West Beirut on May 7, 2008, after months of political paralysis prompted by an attempt by Fouad Siniora’s government to shut down the party’s telecommunications network.
The fallout from the crisis led to the Doha Agreement, which gave Hezbollah and its allies a blocking third of the seats in the Cabinet under the understanding that it would not use that advantage to topple the government.
But Hezbollah-allied ministers walked out of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government in January 2011 due to disagreements over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the court prosecuting those responsible for former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination, which was widely expected to indict members of Hezbollah.
Hailing the new Cabinet, Ahmad Hariri said: “Every step we take that returns prestige to the state is a victory for our movement.”
He also addressed criticisms by his party’s popular base over its decision to form a government with Hezbollah. The Future Movement previously maintained that Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria was a precondition to forming a government. But Hariri said the Future Movement knew it would not be able to change Hezbollah’s position.
“In politics we have to prioritize mind over emotion,” he said, adding that the move stemmed out of pragmatism in order to protect Lebanon from dangers that included suicide bombers and rising extremism.
However, Hariri described Hezbollah as “another side of the coin” to the fundamentalist groups fighting in Syria.
“What is happening in Syria is a devastating sectarian war between Sunni extremists and Shiite extremists,” he said. “We are outside this scene, and we fight against it.”
In addition, Hariri said that Hezbollah’s participation in the Syria was strategically beneficial to its opponents in Lebanon.
“Hezbollah’s participation in Syria is the beginning of the end of that party – militarily and morally and with their own hands,” he said. “They went themselves to a bloody quagmire [from which] they will not emerge victorious.”
Hariri said it was apparent that it was impossible to conduct a dialogue with Hezbollah “as long as it looks upon other Lebanese as weak and itself as strong.”
“We do not care about Hezbollah,” he added. “Hezbollah has illusory dreams of victory. What we care about is the Shiite sect.”
Hariri said Hezbollah’s defeat in Syria ought to be followed with a broader reconciliation in Lebanon with the country’s Shiites.
One of the issues now facing the Cabinet is what to adopt as it ministerial policy statement, something Hariri said would be a core issue for the Future Movement.
He said the bloc would not allow the inclusion of the last government’s formula, “the Army, the people, and the Resistance,” which enshrines Hezbollah’s role as part of the country’s defense strategy:
“That is definite, because Hezbollah went to Syria and left the people and Army in Lebanon.”
He also said the party would insist that Lebanon adhere to various U.N. Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1559, which calls for Hezbollah’s disarmament.
The Future Movement will also seek to include in the ministerial statement its proposal for expanding the STL’s mandate to include all attacks in Lebanon after 2005, the end of the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
On the presidency, Hariri said the Future Movement would prefer the next president to be from its fold, but that it was too early to discuss potential candidates.
Hariri also broached the recent start of trial at the STL, saying it signified his bloc’s demand for “justice, not revenge.”
But he said the political consequences of the trial would be “major” if the suspects were convicted.
The STL has indicted five members of Hezbollah in connection with the Valentine’s Day bombing in 2005 that killed Rafik Hariri and 21 others and plunged Lebanon into political turmoil. The trial of four of the suspects in absentia began last month at the tribunal’s headquarters in The Hague.
Hezbollah has refused to hand over any of the suspects and accuses the court of being a U.S.-Zionist conspiracy to undermine it.
“If these accused are not handed over then an entire party will be accused of assassinating Rafik Hariri,” Hariri said. “There is an opportunity to deliver the accused to the tribunal now.”
Hariri said Hezbollah recognized that it could not end the tribunal, as the Mikati government sent funds to the STL three times despite the party’s strong presence.
“Hezbollah knows that it is not possible to stop the train of international justice,” Hariri said.
The Future Movement’s control of the Justice, Telecommunications and Interior ministries in the new Cabinet will ensure that cooperation with the STL continues, he said.
Hariri also addressed the issue of the return of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Lebanon, backing his decision to remain outside the country for security reasons.
“Mohammad Shatah was killed 50 meters from Central House,” he said, referring to the assassination of the former finance minister in December near Saad Hariri’s Downtown residence and the Future Movement’s headquarters. “It was a message to Saad Hariri: You are not safe meters away from your house.”
The attack was the latest in a string of political assassinations that have largely targeted the Future Movement’s members.
Hariri also acknowledged that Lebanon faced a problem of extremism but accused the March 8 political bloc of painting the entire Sunni sect with an extremist brush. He blamed rising extremism among a minority of Sunnis on images of the massacres in Syria and Hezbollah’s participation there and rhetoric that accuses Sunnis in Lebanon of betraying the country.
He also said certain “intelligence agencies” were using extremists to carry out attacks in Lebanon. He declined to specify which ones.
Praising the Army’s recent arrest of Naim Abbas, a man linked to several suicide bombings in Lebanon, he called the military a “guarantor of security.”