Saad Hariri’s October 29th resignation as Lebanese PM puts a lot of the pressure on Hezbollah and its coalition partners to resolve the country’s problems, but it also underlines the problem of the current power sharing system in Lebanon, which has transcended to Corruption Sharing. The architecture of political power in Lebanon is outdated and no longer serves anyone’s purpose other than the vultures who have feasted on Lebanon’s failure to develop.
Hariri ideally would have power, as Prime Minister, to choose cabinet members as he sees fit. Or dismiss them. In a western political sphere like France or UK, he would have the powers to fire Gebran Bassil, who is seen as the chief focus of nationwide revulsion and epitomizes the generation and caliber of a leader who has little to offer the country but has taken so much from its coffers.
The son-in-law of the president, who wormed his way into politics taking the top cabinet post of foreign minister without initially even holding a parliamentary seat, is seen as the unsavory personification of the entire grubby corrupt system.
Bassil, previously the foreign minister who got the job simply through President Michel Aoun installing him in it, is not the only one. But he has become The Face. The son-in-law of the president, who wormed his way into politics taking the top cabinet post of foreign minister without initially even holding a parliamentary seat, is seen as the unsavory personification of the entire grubby corrupt system. And the fact that he is a servant of Iran and devotee of Syria’s Assad gives many Lebanese a glimpse of the future type of leader, since Bassil, it is widely known, has ambitions to become President.
But Hariri did not have the power as PM to eject him under the present system. He went, at the eleventh hour, to Hezbollah to ask for Bassil to be removed and his request was rejected, hence his resignation.
Many in Lebanon speculate that this was a cunning move so as to reposition himself as PM later on, by which time he would lay out his terms for taking the job. And this may well be a smart move.
But we should not get ahead of ourselves. Hezbollah, now weakened by Hariri’s departure—which takes the entire cabinet with him under the rules—will have its own ideas about how to rebuild a cabinet with its own people, essentially keeping the status quo and Bassil. Hariri’s move is seen as a divisive one as it puts all the pressure on the Shiite Lebanese group, which, along with its coalition partners, held the majority of cabinet posts, to make the next move—with or without Hariri.
And yet it really has come down to just one man. To maintain a favorable cabinet set up, Bassil is seen as the long-term investment for Hezbollah in Lebanon. With Aoun’s failing health, he is all they have to continue in the present delicate structure. But his universal loathing across the country, uniting Sunnis, Christians, and Druze from both political blocks, is even affecting Aoun’s political legacy.
And it is here where the Achilles heel is found. Two of Aoun’s daughters have been begging their father to remove his son-in-law as he is likely to tarnish what they perceive to be a shining legacy. In reality, Aoun’s leadership has been abysmal and a handful of regional analysts have recently pointed this out, although as President he ducks a lot of the flack which has been projected at Lebanese leaders.
Bassil on the other hand is a commodity which can be traded, swapped, and ultimately dumped.
Aoun is a big part of the problem though. But nonnegotiable. The old man is not going anywhere. Bassil on the other hand is a commodity which can be traded, swapped, and ultimately dumped. He has been perceived as the biggest beneficiary of the old system, which protestors want to overturn, and therefore his departure will be seized as a quick fix solution and endearing victory for the baying crowds.
If that is true, then this is a step forward, for sure, but still leaves the awkward task of finding a PM.
The President has recently been consulting with parliamentarians to choose one, which is really where the nail-biting, all-defining moment will be. Parliamentarians are seen as more corrupt and more servile to the failed system than anyone else. Yet they will decide on whether Hariri gets a second shot, knowing full well that he wants Bassil out. A vote by them is effectively a vote for the exit of Bassil and so, in this scenario, Aoun will have little to do to defend his son-in-law if he wants to retain his position as foreign minister.
At the time of writing, reports were circulating of a deal struck which would involve Bassil not being part of a new cabinet.
And this is what Hariri is banking on.
However, Hezbollah and its allies might make up the numbers where it counts. They may well appoint their own Sunni PM who would probably make up a cabinet of so-called technocratic ministers, which would certainly include Bassil. This would not be at all acceptable to protestors though and could spark a movement which could last months if not years, as it would be seen as a coup d’état against a democratic groundswell to do something dramatic about corruption.
Hezbollah though may well play a long game and steer the wrangling away from any concrete decisions placing Hariri and the usual suspects in a “caretaker” role while trying to find a solution which shows that the present incumbents are capable of tackling corruption—a farcical arrangement of expecting bank robbers to drive back to the bank with the money they have stolen, put it back in the vault and clean up the mess they made, while watering the plants before they leave.
Recently banks reopened and we saw a considerable amount of capital flight, but not as bad as some predicted. They have just recently closed again, this time down to staff striking about conditions, as many tellers have had to face angry Lebanese brandishing a Glock semi-automatic pistol wedged in their waistbands.
The worry though is that the old system, which places so much power on the MPs in the parliament, is outdated and seen as a relic of a previous time in history.
If progress is made, then much of that money will be put back in the coming weeks and months and a certain stability can be attained. Deposits from overseas will also return in time. The worry though is that the old system, which places so much power on the MPs in the parliament—who not only get to nominate a PM but ultimately also vote on a President—is outdated and seen as a relic of a previous time in history.
That same set up is making the current crisis in Lebanon about three key figures—Hariri, Aoun, and Bassil—which, while oversimplifying a calamity, actually runs much deeper than mere personalities. In the end, it will be about “your technocrats or mine” when negotiations start for cabinet positions and protestors will have to hold their breath to see if a genuine anti-corruption ethos emerges from this swamp.
It will be interesting to see if the old rule, which gave new MPs a cash “gift” of 100,000 dollars (which they used to buy a decent car and a trip to the tailors), will apply to these new cheap suits. And also, how long the insults from Hezbollah about Hariri can be muffled.