Najib Mikati, Lebanon's Hezbollah-backed designated premier, will attempt to form his cabinet this weekend but will do so without the participation of ex-Prime Minister Saad Harari's coalition.
Hariri (r.) has refused to work with Hezbollah-backed Mikati
As expected after premier designate Najib Mikati was given the task of forming a new government in Lebanon, the coalition of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has flatly rejected being part of a cabinet headed by a man they say was picked by Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group which forced the collapse of his government earlier this month.
The refusal of Hariri's Western-backed coalition to take part in the government will mean that billionaire businessman Mikati would likely form a government of technocrats and politicians and would present his plans to President Michel Sleiman before choosing his cabinet ministers.
Hariri has called on Mikati not to disavow the UN-backed probe into the 2005 assassination of his father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri. It was Saad's refusal to do so that led Hezbollah and its opposition allies to resign in protest and collapse the Hariri cabinet.
Hezbollah had continually called on Hariri to discredit the UN's investigation into his father's death as the pressure increased on the Shiite organization. The tribunal's investigation is expected to indict Hezbollah officials for Rafik Harir's murder. Hezbollah denies any links to the car bomb which killed Hariri and says the tribunal is serving US and Israeli interests.
Mikati, who was appointed earlier this week and whose designation has caused rifts across the divided country's diverse religious spectrum, said he would not commit to Hariri’s demands – or those he had received from Hezbollah, saying that the issue needed to be resolved through dialogue as befitting his centrist position.
Makati nomination deepens rifts across Lebanon
Hariri supporters staged a 'day of rage' against Hezbollah
Hundreds of Saad Hariri's supporters took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against the nomination of Mikati to form the next government. Angry protesters burned tyres and blocked roads and the US warned that it would end its support for Lebanon.
The absence of Hariri from a new government is expected to cause resentment and raise the specter of sectarian violence with many in the wider Sunni population viewing him as their main leader.
The prospect of a Hezbollah-led government is also likely to infuriate radical Sunni jihadi groups who view the Shiite group as a proxy of Iran. The perceived increase of Tehran's influence in Lebanon through Hezbollah would also concern Sunni Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt who fear Iran's growing influence and who would isolate Lebanon should it fall under the control of the Shiite coalition.
Hezbollah candidate triggers cries of treachery
Hezbollah had originally asked former Prime Minister Omar Karami to accept being named as premier to replace Hariri, but Karami later turned down the offer citing health problems.
Najib Mikati will lead a Hariri-free government
Hezbollah then turned to former Sunni premier Najib Mikati, who headed a government in the immediate wake of the assassination of Rafik Hariri, as their preferred candidate. Mikati, a Syrian-backed telecoms billionaire, confirmed his candidacy last weekend, stating that he would be presenting himself as a "consensual candidate" in favor of a unity government.
However, members of Hariri's coalition labeled Mikati's candidacy as "treason" and accused him of "back-stabbing" the caretaker prime minister. Mikati was elected to parliament as a member of Hariri's coalition.
"Omar Karami was the candidate for March 8 with a possible compromise on Mikati," Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, told Deutsche Welle.
Shiites urge unity but Hariri rejects role in Hezbollah cabinet
Hariri has stated that he will campaign for his old job
"Hariri's nomination would have ensured the continuation of the political crisis as he has been denounced by members of the opposition as sectarian, inefficient and corrupt," Kristian Ulrichsen, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told Deutsche Welle.
"In addition, Walid Jumblatt's (influential Druze leader - ed.) withdrawal of support from the Hariri bloc changed the political dynamics within Lebanon and made it more difficult for March 14 to reassemble a coalition with a working majority."
In an effort to calm fears, Hezbollah announced that it would not exclude any political party if its candidate for prime minister wins a parliamentary majority. "To dispel any illusions ... we in the opposition will look for a partnership government if (our) candidate wins the parliamentarian majority," Nasrallah said. "We do not call for a government from one side and for excluding any political party."
However, now that the Hezbollah-backed opposition bloc has gained a majority it is expected to try to govern on its own, said Ulrichsen.
"This would upset Lebanon's delicate confessional equilibrium, inflame local and regional Sunni opinion, particularly in Saudi Arabia,and break the spirit of the 2008 Doha agreement stipulating a government of national unity in which all major parties and communities are represented."
With Saad Hariri's coalition refusing to get involved with any Hezbollah-led cabinet, the Shiite's plan for their own unity government may already be in tatters.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Michael Knigge