Hariri’s resignation should neither shock us or worry us. It is simply another move in the same game which has been played out since the early 90s.
How many of us can remember the names of the Presidents of Italy or Germany? This is because in these republics, it is the prime minister who wields the real power, with the President largely playing a symbolic role as a grey-haired sage who views the proceedings at a great distance.
This is how many Lebanese would like to think of their own aging President Michel Aoun, who in his mid-eighties (it’s unclear exactly how old he is) is holding Lebanon to ransom over a new cabinet of ministers. Aoun, a Hezbollah servant who once fled Lebanon at the end of the civil war when Syrian troops approached Beirut, has taken the terms of his office too literally in believing that the President has the overall say who makes up the cabinet.
It is for this reason why we will see Lebanon fall into an abyss of rampant crime and poverty not seen since the civil war, following the recent resignation of Saad Hariri, who stepped in as Prime Minister nine months ago, following the Beirut bomb and the appointment of a stooge Sunni PM whose name has been changed to sound like “diabolical” by most Lebanese, such was the magnitude of his uselessness.
But even in Lebanon, being useless can be quite useful.
Hariri, hardly a dynamic player himselft, was Saudi Arabia’s last hope in playing a role in somehow compromising some of Iran’s power it wields through keeping Aoun and his son-in-law, Bassil, a hapless buffoon who never had a real job until he was given the post of foreign minister on a plate without even holding a parliamentary seat, in office. Their plan is probably to present Bassil as a presidential candidate in next year’s elections which will be a major juncture for Lebanon and the country’s future. Some even go as far as to argue that the present set up of a Christian Maronite President, a Sunni PM and a Shia parliamentary speaker could even be scrapped.
For Aoun to refuse to accept that it is for Hariri as PM to choose the lion’s share of cabinet ministers was a move, which might prove to have cataclysmic consequences. For Hariri to not accept the stand-off and resign was predictable, given that he will no doubt be having his own ideas about how to derail even the process of being replaced. It is the oldest after dinner joke in Beirut shared by almost everyone that Hariri believes he is indispensable. A lot of that collateral stemmed from the special relationship his father had with the older generation of Saudi royals who treated the Lebanese firebrand leader as one of their own.
But with now King Salman’s health a question in Saudi Arabia, with many speculating that he may well step down to give the throne to Mohamed bin Salman (MbS), how long can this old record keep getting played?
Lebanon needs fresh flows of outside money to pull itself out of the cesspit which the country has become through decades of being looted by the same cronies who are in office today. The only way that money can come in is with cast iron guarantees signed by a credible new government which is not being hijacked by Iran, so as to let Hezbollah keep hundreds of thousands of sophisticated rockets buried in secret bunkers all over the country, facing Israel, naturally. This old set up of “corruption sharing” which now even the most naive Lebanese citizen knows was all about a farce of scaring people into supporting their militia leaders to apparently keep the peace has also had its day.
Hariri’s resignation should neither shock us or worry us. It is simply another move in the same game which has been played out since the early 90s. Sabotage. The difference today is that Lebanon is reported to be literally a matter of days away from hospital generators being shut down as the government neither has the will, nor the ability, to pay for fuel via the central bank – whose chief is so mired in corruption and embezzlement scandals that no one on the country can tell you if the central bank has anything left of the 40bn dollars it was once believed to have before the entire crisis imploded in 2019. Today, Lebanon’s currency in practical terms is worth not even ten percent of its original value as the country is gripped by new fuel shortages and the relentless hyperinflation on essentials, foods and drugs.
Soon, when the old and weak are dying in hospitals which don’t even have electric light and crime levels sore, those who are linked to Hariri will note that in fact, in the shorter term, it was Aoun and his son-in-law who came out of this recent spat as victors – given that Hariri’s ace card (he can talk to Hezbollah) was played but came to nothing. Even the Lebanese Shiite militia, which acts often as a state within a state inside Lebanon, didn’t want to face a stand-off with a President who is so old and showing signs of senility, over his role. Here we see for the first time real power of this duo which explains why they behave sometimes like they are untouchable. Is Hezbollah looking to Aoun to ‘hand down’ the presidency to Bassil, who is hardly on good terms with the Lebanese group? If this is the case, then the Saudis have got their work cut out if they are relying on the often repeated Hariri ruse of resigning just to create a political vacuum. Surely the capricious young Saudi Prince, who once had Hariri beaten up during a kidnapping ordeal which made international headlines in 2017, must have reached the end of his patience?