Lebanon’s year-old unity government crumbles
Hezbollah and its allies have left their coalition with a bloc led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Lebanon on Wednesday, causing the government to collapse. Following the resignation of eleven ministers, more than a third of the 30-member Cabinet, President Michel Suleiman requested that Hariri remain as a caretaker prime minister. Until a new cabinet is formed, Hariri would manage the country’s day-to-day affairs.
After years of political instability, the Sunni prime minister’s Western-backed bloc entered a coalition with the Shiite Hezbollah in an attempt to stabilize the country. Hezbollah, a party that the US and other countries have classified as a terrorist group, is supported by Syria and Iran.
Recently, Syria and Saudi Arabia have attempted to ease political tensions in Lebanon, but after the attempt failed, Hezbollah decided to leave the government. The party accused Hariri of bowing to pressure from the West, and of turning his back on the Syria-Saudi efforts.
Hezbollah’s ministers chose to resign at the same time that Hariri was to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa fears that the dissolution of Lebanon’s government will encourage sectarian violence that has dominated the country’s recent past.
“It is bad. It is tense. It is threatening. All of us have to work together in order to reach some kind of compromise,” he warned.
UN tribunal was contentious issue in Lebanon government
The coalition between Hariri’s bloc and Hezbollah only lasted for fourteen months. The unity government was plagued by disputes over a UN tribunal that was set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah pressured the prime minister to reject the findings of the tribunal, even before they have been announced. However, Hariri has continued to cooperate with the tribunal to uncover his father’s assassins.
The UN tribunal is expected to indict members of Hezbollah. Meanwhile, the party has denounced the Netherlands-based tribunal as a conspiracy by the US and Israel.
Lebanon’s unstable recent history
Lebanon has suffered from decades of war and civil strife. A violent civil war lasted from 1975-1990. In 2006, war broke out between Israel and Hezbollah. In 2008, Sunnis and Shiites were involved in sectarian clashes.
Shiites, Sunnis, and Christians each represent a third of Lebanon’s population of 4 million people. Lebanon’s constitution says that the president must be a Christian Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni, and the parliament speaker a Shiite. Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was backed by many Christians who respected his efforts to limit Syria’s influence in Lebanon.
To find a new prime minister, President Suleiman will start to poll lawmakers on Monday for their choice. Members of the pro-western coalition will likely continue to support Hariri, as he is the most popular choice among Sunnis.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah believes that retaining Hariri is futile since he was not as cooperative with their party. Instead, they would need to find a prime minister that supports their group, in order to keep Lebanon from experiencing more political instability.