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The former PMs’ trip to Saudi could restore balance to the Lebanese political scene

political crisis
Michel TOUMA | OLJ
22/07/2019
The recent visit of former prime ministers Fouad Siniora, Tammam Salam and Nagib Mikati to Saudi Arabia, where they were received by King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, has sparked signification reactions and given rise to a great deal of speculation, both of which were to be expected.

This trip comes in a context of significant imbalance on the local political scene - due to the ‘fait accompli’ imposed manu militari by the Hezbollah -, and the clear dysfunction of constitutional institutions on all levels. A dysfunction which, according to Sunni circles, is manifested by repeated attempts to clip the wings of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and the undermining of his prerogatives (provided to him under the Constitution) as Head of Government.

Sources close to Fouad Siniora stress that based on these facts - the internal imbalance and the institutional dysfunction–, the three former prime ministers (in coordination with Prime Minister Hariri) took the following decision: to make contact with several Arab leaders in order to expose to them the reality of the present situation in the Country of the Cedars.

Why start with Saudi Arabia? According to Mr. Siniora's circles, a quick review of Lebanon's contemporary history will show that the Wahhabi Kingdom and Egypt have always been the two main centers of influence in the Arab world, and as such, the two countries have always had a constructive role in Lebanon. Thus, they have consistently shown their concerns for the stability and independence of Lebanon, regardless of the timing of any major event.

In recent history, Saudi Arabia has played an active role in finding solutions to the Lebanese crisis. The most significant episode in this regard was, without any doubt, the famous 1989 Taif conference. The latter in turn gave birth to the Taif Agreement and to the new Lebanese Constitution, and represented a turning point in the war that had shaken the country since April 1975. Therefore, according to sources close to Mr. Siniora, it is only normal that the three former prime ministers start their process with a meeting with King Salman.

The power of equilibrium

The same sources insist on stating that this approach represents, in a way, a new political agreement that to some extent can take on a "structural" aspect. According to Mr. Siniora’s circle, the aim is to help restore balance in the political scene in order to cope with both Hezbollah’s mini-state, and the repeated violations inflicted on the Constitution and on the essence of the Taif Agreement. In this context, the same source asserts that Lebanon’s ongoing stability, and any attempts to maintain its fragile internal equilibrium, can only be founded on "the power of balance and in no way on the balance of power": in essence, a balance of power depends on the current circumstances, which can be disrupted any time, while "the power of balance" is the expression of a deep national desire to respect the sensibilities of the various components of Lebanon’s social fabric.

Alongside the approach taken by the three former prime ministers, the sources close to Fouad Siniora would like to emphasize the importance of another parameter, which they describe as being a "vital" one, and which according to them is a necessary path to be taken before any re-balancing and/or stabilization can happen on the local scene: this parameter respect for the constitutional mechanisms. More specifically, they insist that it has become imperative for the President of the Republic to once again play his role of safeguarding the Constitution, as well as becoming the man to unify the various local factions.

Those close to Mr. Siniora would also like to emphasize that the head of state must remain above the fray and refrain from getting bogged down by all sorts of political maneuvers. They also add that whenever the President of the Republic indulges in small partisan calculations, or acts as the representative of a single party, he loses all his authority. On the other hand, when he choses to act as a rallying force and outside the conflict, he inevitably causes all the factions to respect his authority and his constitutional status. The sources in question add that in this regard, we often tend to forget that the President of the Republic has enormous power -namely his role as the guarantor of the Constitution and his duty to make sure it is respected-. This is, the sources claim, a power that no party can oppose and that no faction can dispute. It is at this stage that the real strength of the Head of State can come to bear, and not by taking a stance that aims to defend the rights or the position of a single component of the local scene. Finally, the same sources are pleading for a national awakening that should to take place at all levels: in light of the current situation, this is the only possible way to start a solid process of rehabilitation in the country.


(This article was originally puiblished in L'Orient-Le Jour in French on the 19th of July)

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