The Cabinet of Najib Mikati is becoming increasingly mired in a stalemate that threatens to drag Lebanon even further into dysfunction and drift, thanks to the cold war between the prime minister and the March 8 coalition.
The differences have been there all along, but they often remained hidden. Today, things are out in the open, and the dangerous repercussions are there for all to see.
The Cabinet has been unable to act on ending a debilitating strike by civil servants and public school teachers. It has been unable to move ahead with much-needed appointments in the judiciary, while the sorry saga of the parliamentary election law represents yet another level of failure. As if these problems weren’t enough, Lebanon’s critically important relations with Gulf states have suffered after the government’s blatant inability to adhere to its much-trumpeted policy of disassociation on the Syrian crisis.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet endorsed Mikati’s stance on Syria policy, backing his call for ministers to get in line with the disassociation policy. But the damage was already done, after Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour’s recent performance at the Arab League in Cairo.
When it comes to meetings of the March 8-led Cabinet, ministers solemnly support Mikati. But when the Cabinet is not in session, March 8 ministers feel free to support Mansour and his freelancing, stating explicitly that the foreign minister’s performance is completely in line with government policy on Syria.
The opposition has demanded that Mansour step down or be ousted, while Mikati has recently put out signals that he would like to resign, to distance himself from the dysfunction. Unfortunately for Lebanon, none of its top officials is going anywhere. Everyone is aware that no such developments will take place without the blessing of Hezbollah, and there is no sign that such a scenario is in the offing.
The government’s failures should have sent it packing a long time ago, but the public will only be allowed to watch the Cabinet collapse slowly from within.
Mikati and President Michel Sleiman are determined to hold parliamentary elections on time, but members of the unruly March 8-led government are content with making statements every day that put the entire electoral process in doubt. The public hears that dialogue should be held to resolve the election impasse, as if this shouldn’t have been concluded months and months ago. Government officials talk about the need to adhere to disassociation on Syria, while the public sees rampant violations of this policy, as well as a cavalier disregard for violations of Lebanese sovereignty.
In effect, Lebanon is left with a Cabinet that is incapable of taking meaningful decisions on virtually every front, which means that the longer it stays in office, the quicker Lebanon slides in the direction of being a failed state.