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Lebanon must free itself from regional yoke

File - The president 's chair is seen empty in Baabda, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

When considering regional politics, optimism must be tempered with a hearty dose of realism. While many have speculated about how a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement – signs of which have emerged recently – would accelerate holding Lebanon’s presidential election, any detente between the nations is bound to be protracted.

Moreover, Lebanese authorities must find the will to make autonomous decisions for their nation without pandering to the policies of patron countries.

Amid the looming possibility of a presidential vacuum in Lebanon, as Tehran-backed March 8 groups and the Riyadh-supported March 14 alliance fail to come to an agreement on one candidate, many observers rejoiced when Iran this week welcomed an official invitation by Saudi Arabia to discuss a host of disputed issues. They expect the thaw in ties to have a direct impact on the election.

But Lebanese politicians are likely to fall unconscious if they hold their breath while waiting for these regional rivals to shed their enmity, say well-informed sources.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves ... I don’t think a rapprochement is in progress [between Saudi Arabia and Iran] that will fix Lebanon’s problems,” one source told The Daily Star. “I think that a rapprochement is going to commence, but it will be a very difficult dialogue. ... It will take time.”

Paris for its part, hopes Lebanon will work to divorce itself from the convoluted web of regional politics.

“France believes that Lebanon has the capacity to make its own choices with a great degree of independence, if it wanted to. But unfortunately, that’s not the case,” the source said.

Still, international observers were encouraged by the formation of a government last February and hope that a similar accord between the March 8 and March 14 camps can be reached to elect a president.

“There was no international decision to impose anyone or block them [from joining the Cabinet],” the source said.

“The current government was formed by a Lebanese equation.”

Traditionally, France has had an influence on Lebanese politics as the country was under French mandate for over two decades. But the Elysee has no candidate in this election, the source stressed.

“France is not for any candidate, nor is is against any candidate,” the source said. “France is only concerned that [Lebanese] institutions function properly for the people.”

Presidential candidate Samir Geagea, who is backed by the March 14 coalition, and potential contender Michel Aoun both have storied ties to the Hexagon.

Geagea met with former French President Jacques Chirac in the Elysee Palace in 2007 and is currently on an international “working trip” that will include a stop in Paris and Riyadh.

For his part, Aoun spent around 15 years in exile in France before returning to Lebanon in May 2005.

During an unsuccessful Parliament session to elect a president on April 23, Geagea garnered 48 votes only, well below the 86 votes required for a presidential hopeful to win in the first round of elections.

For his part, Henry Helou, who is backed by Walid Jumblatt’s bloc, got only 16 votes. Aoun has yet to officially announce his candidacy.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 17, 2014, on page 2.

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