In Lebanon, New Government Unlikely to Herald New Political Era

In Lebanon, New Government Unlikely to Herald New Political Era

On Feb. 15, Lebanon formed a new government after 11 months of political deadlock. Yet the real significance and impact this will have on Lebanon’s political stability is very much unclear. The new Cabinet allows Lebanon’s main parties—the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and the Sunni Future Movement—to resume their political fight inside the government rather than on the street, although one does not preclude the other. However, several points of contention remain between the two sides that could obstruct further progress.

For the new Cabinet to start addressing a host of pressing challenges, including the election of a new president before the summer, the Syrian refugee crisis, the deteriorating security situation and the collapsing economy, it must first come up with a set of political principles in the form of a policy statement. But Hezbollah and the Future Movement, and their respective allies, disagree on what the policy statement should say. Hezbollah wants the document to refer to its right to resist Israel, so that the Lebanese state continues to legitimize and legalize the group’s weapons. The Future Movement insists that such a role of national defense be strictly assumed by the Lebanese army. The Future Movement, along with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, also wants the policy statement to include a clause stating that Lebanon will maintain “neutrality” in regional conflicts, specifically the war in Syria, to apply pressure on Hezbollah to end its military involvement there. Such a clause would be consistent with the “Baabda declaration” emphasizing Lebanese neutrality, which the two sides agreed upon in 2012.

Regardless what compromises Hezbollah and the Future Movement might end up agreeing on, no Lebanese or international document will force Hezbollah to withdraw its troops from Syria. Hezbollah sees the war in Syria as existential, as does Hezbollah’s primary patron, Iran. But if the relevance of the new Cabinet’s policy statement is questionable at best, the Future Movement still believes that it is important, in particular with regard to Lebanon’s obligations toward donor countries. Donors are expected to meet in Paris on March 5-6, where they will make crucial decisions to extend their funding to Lebanon to help it manage the Syrian spillover. If the new Cabinet grants all of Hezbollah’s wishes, there is a small chance donor countries might renege on their funding promises even though Lebanon’s stability is in their interest.

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