The March 14 alliance, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s coalition party, announced its refusal to join Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati’s cabinet last night, dealing another blow to the new government. Mikati, who has a close relationship with Syria’s Bashar Assad and has been denounced by the Sunnis as a traitor, is a billionaire who made his money in the telecom industry.
The March 14 alliance’s decision is the result of the government’s rejection of the alliance leadership’s fundamental demands, including the need to preserve the political regime by guaranteeing that the state maintains a monopoly on the use of force and restoring the authority of the state in determining Lebanon’s relations with Israel. Hezbollah’s enormous arsenal, refusal to disarm and stated goal of destroying Israel had been a constant cause of strain within Hariri’s government, and will continue to be a problem for Mikati as he seeks to lead a new coalition government.
The leaders of the March 14 alliance claim that joining Mikati would legitimize what they assert was a coup by Hezbollah, instigated on January 12th with the collapse of Saad Hariri’s government after the resignation of all Hezbollah ministers. Mikati has considered cancelling the the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination, which prompted the mass resignation. Hariri deems that course of action unacceptable and has remained steadfast in his refusal to join Mikati, accusing foreign elements of hampering Lebanon’s ability to determine its own affairs.
The composition of the government in Lebanon is determined according to religious affiliation, in a long standing arrangement meant to balance power among Lebanon’s many religious sects. The President must be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim. Though meant to alleviate tensions, the power sharing rule has been the cause of many failed governments, including Saad Hariri’s, which was structured from the outset to perpetuate gridlock and prevent Hariri from dictating a meaningful agenda. Hezbollah’s necessary involvement in the new government only further exacerbates an already difficult arrangement. Any subsequent government will therefore likely suffer the same fate as Hariri’s- gridlock and eventual collapse- a realization that prompted over 500 people in Beirut to hold a protest (organized over Facebook) to call for an end to the power sharing arrangement and demand a democratic government.