The morning after Tammam Salam was nominated as the new prime minister of Lebanon, a newspaper—known for its affiliation with the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria—welcomed him by asking, “How can you declare you stand by the Syrian uprising when you are the premier of a consensual government, and you know that the March 8 alliance supports Bashar Assad’s regime and the March 14 alliance opposes it. Why would you say that?” However, despite this negative stance adopted by this particular newspaper, Salam is perhaps the only Sunni man in the history of Lebanon to have been appointed via consensus. He received the votes of 124 MPs—despite their various affiliations and positions—while only 4 abstained from voting.
Parliamentary support was accompanied by international support. The Saudi king and the Russian president sent him messages, while Saad Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, sent him his private jet. Luckily for Salam, President Assad did not call him, but the Iranian ambassador in Beirut voiced his leadership’s wishes for success. Of course, he did so whilst reminding Salam of what that leadership refers to as the “resistance,” namely Hezbollah.
The congratulatory session soon turned into a debate as the new prime minister responded to Iran’s envoy by asserting that if Hezbollah’s arms were targeted against Israel, then they are legitimate. However, he set the condition that the “decision of war and peace should be in the hands of the Lebanese state and limits should be set to any use of weapons domestically.” Everyone is competing over the new prime minister because they realize that Lebanon may be the next battlefield. Yet at the same time no one wants this, including the Iranians who are usually enthusiastic to support proxy wars. They have no interest in involving Hezbollah in another battle while the conflict in Syria is raging.
We do not know much about the new prime minister other than he comes from a deep-rooted political family. His father was a former Lebanese premier in the 1950s. Yet Tammam Salam has never previously competed for the role of prime minister, nor has he requested it. His acquaintances regard him as an intellectual ‘Beiruti’ who loves music and theater. He is on good terms with everyone in his neighborhood, which is close by to a Shi’ite community.
The requirements of the Lebanese prime minister, at this particular stage in the country’s development, seem to be evident and present in Salam. Yet despite this, the country’s crises far outweigh any single person’s capabilities, and it will not be easy to protect Lebanon from drowning if the Syrian dam collapses. It is in everyone’s interest, except that of the Assad regime, to prevent the flood and protect civil peace from the internal conflicts that we currently see between the Sunni, Shi’ite, Alawite and Palestinian blocs.
How can Salam convince Hezbollah not to send its missiles and men across the border to Syria, so thousands of Syrian fighters do not end up coming over to Lebanon and, in turn, transferring the war to the neighboring country? How can Salam save the areas of Lebanon that the Syrian regime is currently targeting with shellfire and direct occupation? How can he protect his Sunni citizens who complain of provocation by Hezbollah’s militia? How can he convince Sunni extremists to abandon establishing armed militias under the pretext of creating a balance with Hezbollah and protecting their own territory? How will he prevent Israel from creeping forwards because it claims Hezbollah has stolen from its chemical and strategic arms stockpiles? Above all this, how will Salam provide for the thousands of Syrian refugees and the other hundreds of thousands who will certainly flee if the fighting in Syria intensifies in the upcoming months?
As we can see, Tammam Salam was handed the ship’s helm in the middle of a storm. Hence it was not strange that he was appointed via consensus.