Lebanon Continues to Face Crisis

An Unstable Governing Body Is the Source of Ongoing Problems That Plague Lebanon Today

Deanne Chen/Staff

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The political situation in Lebanon has entered a crisis stage, which has made headlines around the world. Berkeley students may wonder how that crisis came to be, or what the prospects are for solving it.

Lebanon's government is a consensus government, which means that nothing can be accomplished without the agreement of two-thirds of the cabinet. The cabinet is composed of 30 ministers, so without a positive vote from 20 members, no motion can pass.

On Jan. 12, all of the ten Hezbollah-aligned ministers resigned from the cabinet, as well as Minister of State Adnan Sayyed Hussein, causing the collapse of the government - that is, the US-backed government led by businessman Saad Hariri. The government had previously been deadlocked for months over the issue of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) - a body charged with investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, father of Lebanon's current Prime Minister. The Hezbollah-aligned March 8 camp asserts that information provided to the STL implicating Hezbollah members in the attack was provided by false witnesses, who were either paid for their testimony or who gave unreliable accounts. This "false witnesses" file has been at the heart of the government deadlock - Hezbollah demands the false witnesses be investigated and the STL abandoned while the opposing March 14 camp demands the opposite.

Before the government collapsed, the March 8 camp had refused to vote on any motions, therefore rendering the government useless even before their resignations. So even though the collapse of the government, in name, represents a transition from deadlock to crisis, the government continues to run in much the same way it had before, which is to say, not very well. Prime Minister Saad Hariri and all the cabinet ministers are now officially referred to as members of a "caretaker" government. Hariri is the current "caretaker Prime Minister."

The emotions of the country's citizens, however, are not in stasis. In the days following the resignation, the streets of Beirut were extraordinarily quiet - it seems people have been holding their breath. In the private homes of the country's politicians, intra-party meetings have been held at fever pace. In a break from one such meeting only hours after the resignation, one party leader from the March 14 camp told me worriedly, "Every time we don't reach a consensus, we go to the streets ... and Lebanon becomes a failed state."

He may be referring to the events of 2008, when a previous government deadlock led to mass sit-ins, strikes, protests and, eventually, the takeover of Beirut by Hezbollah militants. No one denies that the current situation may devolve into such a scenario, but the consensus is that it is not Hezbollah's aim to take over Lebanon by force. This would make the organization much more vulnerable to attack by Israel.

On Jan. 16, Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah, gave a much-awaited speech, the gist of which was that the situation having come to a head as it has is the result of a vast American-Israeli conspiracy with Saad Hariri as a complicit puppet. He said the opposition (Hezbollah's allies in the March 8 camp) would not accept Hariri as Prime Minister in the new government, which has yet to be formed, and that he would not accept any government that conspires against the resistance (i.e. Hezbollah). This echoes a previous statement he made, repeated ad nauseum in the media, that he would "cut off the hand" of anyone who tried to arrest Hezbollah members as part of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's investigation. This threat is credible because the 2008 takeover was immediately precipitated by the government shutting down Hezbollah's telecommunications network, which had been a major asset to the organization's intelligence-gathering efforts, as well as to the perceived victory against Israel in the 2006 war.

His statement outlined the opposition's requirements for moving forward. If any future government of Lebanon wants Hezbollah's support, which is to say, they want to function at all, they should:

1. Withdraw the Lebanese judges sitting on the STL.

2. Cease funding to the STL.

3. Scrap the Memorandum of Understanding between the Lebanese government and the STL.

Obviously, all of Hezbollah's efforts at this time are concentrated on making the STL's indictment(s) null and void, or at least unable to bear weight, before they even come out.

But things are quiet for the moment. If violence does erupt, it won't happen until after the indictments come out, an event that has been repeatedly rescheduled. Or if the President approves a government with Saad Hariri as Prime Minister. Or if he approves a government without Saad Hariri as Prime Minister.

In any case, Lebanon has a long and difficult road ahead.


Tomi Laine Clark is a student at UC Berkeley. Reply to [email protected]

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