The new President must be made in Lebanon
By Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai
It is most likely that Lebanon shall not have a new President on the 25th of May 2014, date when the actual President Michel Suleiman is due to leave Baabda Palace. The new President would have to wait for an agreement between the two main political groups, the 14th of March and the 8th of March. Such an agreement doesn’t look imminent and it is most likely not due to happen any time soon.
Observers would argue that a push by a Western intervention supported by regional players would give birth to the new President. Not quite.
It used to be the case when Syria (1979-2005) was in control of Lebanon. France, the US and Syria would coordinate to find an acceptable President. Syria now is at war and won’t have an effective direct role any soon. The US and EU wish to see a stability in Lebanon due to the consequences of the “Arab Tsunami” hitting the region, leaving the West impotent, clumsy, and without an effective initiative either to solve the different Middle Eastern crisis or to impose a new Lebanese President. Now, other players are directly involved. On top of these, Saudi Arabia is sitting.
The United States administration enjoys strategic ties with Saudi Arabia and could eventually, willingly, contributes in influencing the Saudi decision or guiding it for a more stable Lebanon. Saudi Arabia is known for its lack of strategy in the Middle East and its hectic political choices. We have seen very recently with its vain support to the controversial Lebanese candidate for presidency Samir Geagea; no need to mention its choices in Syria to support al-Qaeda and retrieve its support only to a less extreme Al-Qaeda group; Saudi choices in Iraq, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar have not been strategic or beneficial to the region or to Saudi Arabia itself. Its stand on the West rapprochement with Iran in the nuclear dossier is also another contradictory issue.
Iran doesn’t have much to say in the selection of the new President, as its supporters within the March 8 group know what would be the best choice that suits their political aspiration, in harmony with the interest of Iran in the region. We can say exactly the same for the March14 group, if allowed to decide without interference, taking into consideration Saudi Arabia’s interest.
But Saudi Arabia tried to impose a new President, Samir Geagea, with the hope he would stand against Hezbollah. Geagea, judged and imprisoned for the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rashid Karamé and other political opponents, was the best Saudi choice.
When President Michel Suleiman travelled a few months ago to Saudi Arabia, he was asked by King Abdullah “why the Lebanese Army doesn’t stop Hezbollah from intervening in Syria?”. Hezbollah’s intervention blowup the Saudi plans to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad (see Part I and Part II) and shuffled the cards in the region. The ex-Prime Minister, the Lebanese-Saudi Saad Hariri, present at the meeting, answered that “the Lebanese Army was not armed enough to stand against Hezbollah”, hence, the Saudi generous gift of $3bn to buy weapons through France. It is largely known that Lebanon is not allowed to possess any strategic weapons representing a possible threat to Israel. Saudi Arabia wanted the “gift” to come along with a new “strong and hostile President to Hezbollah”. Had this happened, a war in Lebanon would have been inevitable?
Practically, no President would reach his Palace without the agreement of both parties as each group holds a bit less than half of the Parliament seats. Hezbollah, represented in the Parliament with a small number but owns the military power, won’t accept to feel threatened or any EU/US/Saudi Arabia influence over the selection of a hostile new President.
On Wednesday the 30th of April, the 8th of March group will not be present in its majority at the Parliament, rendering the vote required incomplete (86 MPs must be present out of 127 MPs. Only 65 votes are required at the second session to elect a President. None of the strongest groups can gather the required number of MPs to elect a President).
It is most likely that the ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri (and leader of the March 14) would not return to Lebanon. Therefore, the possibility to elect a March 8 President in exchange of a March 14 Prime Minister is to be dismissed. It is only through negotiation between both groups that a moderate President would be elected. This new President is not supposed to be hostile for either group. Such a negotiation would require some time, beyond the 25th of May.
The new President must be made in Lebanon.