Lebanon News

March 8 must step up, there’s a country to run: analysts

BEIRUT: Even though they agreed that Lebanon’s new Cabinet will most likely come under enormous domestic and international pressure, analysts were unable to predict the lifespan of the March 8-dominated government, which won a vote of confidence in Parliament Thursday.

With the March 14 coalition launching a merciless campaign to bring it down and the international community and Arab countries vigilantly monitoring every stance, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati faces an uncertain future.

“The STL, the STL and the STL remains the sole and major challenge facing this government,” said Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House, in reference to the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon probing the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The divisive court indicted last week four members of Hezbollah in the 2005 killing.

According to International Crisis Group analyst Sahar Atrache, while the March 14 alliance will utilize the indictment as an effective political weapon, the new Cabinet was so far seemingly capable of resisting pressure.

“Now that the indictment has been issued the March 14 alliance has a powerful card to play but, at least to Hezbollah, this indictment is [ineffective] and Najib Mikati is still able to resist at this stage,” she said.

Recently, the March 14 alliance vowed to employ all means possible to bring down the Mikati Cabinet and launch a political campaign to urge Arab governments and the international community to end cooperation with the government if it fails to comply with the requirements of U.N. Resolution 1757, which stipulated the establishment of the STL.

However, Atrache argues that Mikati might cave in to pressure if his rivals in the Future Movement step up their campaign within the Sunni community, especially in his hometown of Tripoli.

“When Mikati feels that he is losing among his people he might reconsider,” she said.

But Atrache views the March 14 coalition’s lobbying against the new government in Arab and international arenas as “another failed strategy,” especially since the STL was a priority only in the eyes of the alliance but not in those of international and Arab actors.

“The conditions that followed the Hariri assassination have changed and Lebanon is no longer considered by the United States as a strategic spot [in the Middle East],” said the analyst.

Shehadi, however, said the Mikati government was likely to reach a “stage of paralysis” once the parties it is made up of clash over decisive issues related to the STL.

“I don’t think this government will come into a confrontation with the international community,” Shehadi added. “The March 14 needn’t lobby against the government as the international community will be immediately alerted if the Mikati government fails to comply to its obligations toward Resolution 1757.”

Atrache said the U.S. and even Saudi Arabia, two of the main backers of the March 14 coalition, cannot afford to completely cut ties with Mikati, President Michel Sleiman and even the Free Patriotic Movement.

The ICG expert said that Mikati along with Sleiman and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt have worked on maintaining Lebanon’s ties with the international and Arab communities by sending a series of “veiled messages.”

“Their insistence on acquiring one-third of seats in the new Cabinet, and including a clause in the policy statement related to the STL, in addition to the Lebanese judiciary putting into effect arrest warrants issued by the Hariri court, are all signs of goodwill,” she added.

Meanwhile, analysts agreed that managing the country’s social and economic issues was yet another key test for the new government.

Shehadi said although the current Cabinet was “one-sided” and not a national unity government, this was a “healthy” sign since it opened the way for accountability.

“The results of the [2013 parliamentary] elections will reveal to Mikati and other parties making up the Cabinet whether or not they succeeded in their mission,” he added.

Atrache, for her part, said the biggest challenge was now facing Hezbollah and the FPM, which have long promoted principles such as transparency and integrity.

“How will the FPM fight corruption and how will Hezbollah implement its theories on social justice?” she asked.

Atrache added that the FPM and Hezbollah grew in popularity by pinpointing the flaws of the March 14 coalition when its was in government.

“Being part of the government and contributing to the decision-making process is a much more difficult task than being part of the opposition,” she said, adding that both FPM and Hezbollah were now “face to face with the slogans they [championed] in the past years, and here is the real test.”

On top of the tribunal and socio-economic issues, the new government is not isolated from the changes that have swept major parts of the Arab world, and particularly Syria, according to Atrache.

Shehadi disagreed saying when it comes to Syria, the Lebanese have long been divided. “Regardless of what happens there [in Syria] or who takes power, the Lebanese will maintain their differences regarding their biggest neighbor,” Shehadi said.

For Atrache, however, the biggest risks emerged from Syria. Atrache argued that while the security situation was quasi-stable for now, a deterioration would have immediate repercussions in Lebanon.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 08, 2011, on page 2.

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