Who has priority in Lebanon ... a president or a republic?

Who has priority in Lebanon ... a president or a republic?

A general view of a parliamentary session in the Lebanese capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
A general view of a parliamentary session in the Lebanese capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
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Amid the persistent confusion in the Lebanese political situation, some local parties continue to suggest that deciding on a president is the desired solution. However, electing the president does not mean much and the republic is eroding and dissolving day after day.
Undoubtedly, the election of a president would constitute a positive dose, especially if the concerned parties — internally, regionally and internationally — are able to agree, even implicitly, on the future framework and role of Lebanon and if the difficulties that have prevented the filling of the presidential vacuum since the end of October 2022 are overcome.
These obstacles — and their entanglements at the regional level — are well known to the concerned parties that are currently represented by the ambassadors of the Quintet Committee (the US, France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar).
Here, of course, it is inevitable to add a new factor to the complexities of the Lebanese situation: the Gaza displacement war and its consequences.
The first consequence is the escalation of ferocious Israeli aggression sparked by the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. There are those who today say that, unless the current Israeli war Cabinet falls because of a serious rift between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (and his bloc of five representatives), leading to the holding of new elections, there will be no way to contain the boisterous forces deeply rooted in the extremism that Netanyahu relies on.
Second is that, while the fever of the Iranian “unity of arenas” project may have cooled somewhat, Tehran is still capable of negotiating with Washington by fire and drones along the Lebanese-Israeli border. This destructive “negotiation” amid an American presidential election year has had a number of repercussions, including: the tragedy of displacement from South Lebanon; an increase in the radicalism of the residents of the northern Israeli settlements and their enthusiasm for a military solution; mounting political and security pressures on Arab countries, whether surrounding Israel or facing Iran in the Gulf region; and a better chance for Donald Trump to outbid Joe Biden, who is besieged on the one hand by the supporters of Israel in Congress and on the other by its opponents among the youth of America’s universities.
Third is that the internal displacement in Lebanon, away from the border areas targeted by Israeli bombing, coincides with a campaign to return refugees and displaced Syrians “voluntarily.” These calls are in fact based mainly on sectarian considerations and calculations, but they are reinforced by a pressing economic and living reality.

It is inevitable to add a new factor to the complexities of the Lebanese situation: the Gaza displacement war.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Last week, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah made his contribution, proposing to push Syrian refugees and displaced persons to Europe, thus completing the “demographic mission” undertaken by Tehran, starting with Iraq (after 2003) and passing through Syria (after 2011) to redraw the Arab Levant map, perhaps through an intersection of interests with Israel’s transfer projects. These are interests that observers fear will not stop at Gaza, but will include the West Bank and may extend to an “alternative homeland” plan.
Fourth is that it may be difficult to count the accumulation of dangerous regional complexities in the current circumstances. It does not seem logical to ignore the possibility of slipping into catastrophic, uncalculated scenarios. At the same time, it may also not be wise — at least for Washington — to postpone defusing the violence until after the November presidential election, in which a Trump victory may open the door to all possibilities.
Therefore, the countries represented by the Quintet Committee are seeking to address the Lebanese situation, taking into account all the factors affecting the fabric of the country and its reality. But in the end, they do not hold all the cards.
The two non-Arab parties, the US and France, have so far adopted a flexible approach toward Tehran’s policies in the region and have preferred to coexist with its regional tools in order to avoid an open war with no boundaries.
On the other hand, despite the limited “punitive” American strikes against Iran, the leadership in Tehran believes that the blackmail strategy it has adopted, and controlled its momentum according to need, is a strategy that has proven successful. On this basis, it sees that there is absolutely no need to abandon it.
Most of the American and French initiatives toward Lebanon since late 2022, when dealing with the issues of the presidency and the army, in particular, deliberately avoided addressing the reality of the “mini-state that is stronger than the state,” preferring instead to focus on resolving fleeting problems and resorting to temporary remedies while waiting for circumstances to change.
But regional developments helped maintain that reality and even accelerated the collapse of the “state” in favor of the “mini-state.” The reluctance to impose a permanent and just political solution by the ruling Israeli right has increased the credibility of the Tehran axis. Leniency toward Iran and its proxies has encouraged the Israeli right to become stubborn, escalate and undermine all chances for peace and stability in the region.

Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. X: @eyad1949


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