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Tammam Salam: After the Honeymoon - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Numbers do not lie.

Lebanon’s prime minister designate, Tammam Salam, who is tasked with forming the country’s next government, obtained a record number of votes—124 out of a total of 128—from MPs during the constitutionally mandated consultations carried out by Lebanese president Michel Suleiman.

Two lawmakers were conspicuous in not voting for Salam: Michel Aoun and Suleiman Frangieh. They are Maronite politicians who are currently tactically allied with one another. This was not always the case, Aoun was the Syrian regime’s bitterest enemy, going even further than the Maronite patriarch himself. Frangieh, on the other hand, enjoys historically friendly political ties, both political and familial, with the Assad family and other Syrian rulers who held power prior to the start of the Assad dynasty.

In terms of a serious political reading of the circumstances surrounding Salam’s nomination and its consequences, Aoun and Frangieh’s positions do not require much analysis, particularly as their political influence is relatively slight. Accordingly, that they refrained from participating in this gesture of goodwill towards the prime minister designate is irrelevant. On the other hand, an accurate analysis of how the representatives of the Shi’ite bloc voted is a necessity, particularly as they rely on force of arms, popularity, and close regional ties.

The cornerstone of the Shi’ite political bloc—Hezbollah and the Amal Movement—were keen to nominate Salam, hinting at a desire on their part to facilitate his mission without abandoning their requirement that any future government commit to the “army, people and the resistance” equation. This means it would be necessary for this government to ignore Hezbollah’s domestic hegemony on the Lebanese scene outside the authority of the state. Salam responded to this prospect adroitly, emphasizing that he believes that decisions regarding war and peace fall exclusively under the purview of the state.

Thus, an empty goodwill gesture from the Shi’ite bloc met by Salam’s insistence that the issue of war and peace are the state’s exclusive preserve have confused the Lebanese and thrown them into a labyrinth of details. Such a situation does not signal a speedy formation of the new government, particularly in the light of a deteriorating domestic scene and an explosive regional situation.

Basically, the outgoing government was formed under the shadow of arms and their triumph and coercion and its predecessor had been toppled by a coup. It has now resigned because the situation inside Lebanon no longer allowed for a Sunni prime minister to remain a “false witness” to the dismissal of the authority’s representative and just rule, but also because the prime minister could no longer reasonably state that he was not involved in preserving the security of Lebanon from the repercussions of the Syrian debacle.

Despite former prime minister Najib Mikati’s patience, flexibility, and good relations with a number of Arab authorities, he found himself surrounded by a ministerial majority belonging to the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance, which is directly involved in the fighting inside Syria. He also found himself unable to stop the movement of fuel tankers to and from Syria, in what represented open violation of the Arab and international position, while he was also prevented from preserving the equilibrium in the makeup of Lebanon’s security organization.

In the end, Mikati was embarrassed into tendering his resignation, while Hezbollah and its followers preferred to abandon its legitimate cover for its project rather than be forced to live with a domestic and regional reality that could weaken its grip on Lebanon’s security through the country’s borders with Syria.

So what now?

There are a number of factors that Tammam Salam cannot ignore—but neither can Hezbollah.

The first consideration is how the situation in Syria will influence the Lebanese interior. The Syrian regime today—and behind this the Iranian grand project—no longer enjoys the same capability to maneuver as it did before March 2011. The Lebanese people well recall how Bashar Al-Assad would summon Lebanese Sunni visitors to Damascus and send them back to reassure the street that the “problem is over” and that “everything in Syria is fine.”

Second, the psychological segregation on the Lebanese scene—between sections of the Muslim majority, including even the Sunni sect—has reached a point where vigilance becomes crucial. Thus, Hezbollah’s war against Sunni moderation in Lebanon is more like the Samson option. This is because there is no guarantee that the radical Sunni groups who are currently being used by Hezbollah—and behind them Iran— as a scarecrow that frightens and blackmails the international community, will remain under control in the future.

Third is the Syrian regime’s gambling on the issue of minorities, particularly after this succeeded in bringing Sunni extremism into Syria with the objective of inciting sectarian intimidation and international extortion, has nearly reached the level of ethnic–sectarian cleansing. This is what is happening in western Hama and the north-west mountainous region of Syria, especially around Homs. This is not to mention what was recently revealed regarding the presence of agents—Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinian—attempting to sow sedition between the Druze in Hawran Mountain and their Sunni neighbors on the Hawran plains, reaching further to the slopes of Jabal Al-Sheikh in the governorate of Quneitra, as well as the Damascus suburbs.

Fourth, the extent of the involvement of Hezbollah and other Lebanese group in the ongoing killing taking place in Syria has been exposed, following a period when it was difficult to confirm such reports and accusations. This is a reality that must impose a redefinition of terms like non-involvement, weapons of resistance, and the decision between becoming militarily involved in the conflict and seeking a peaceful resolution.

Finally, the Christian leadership in Lebanon has unfortunately failed in playing the historic role required of them: to redefine the role of the Christian community, ensuring that it has a positive influence on the Near East. Moreso when the Christians’ role enjoyed the greatest advantage in peace times, and paid the highest price during war time. The Christians today must transcend the wounds of the past and play an active role in confirming the necessity of their presence and their interaction with their environment. They are not guests or tourists in the region. This course must begin in Lebanon through a just and rational election law, while in Syria we must see the Christians play an active role in reining in the regime’s transgressions and its gambling on division.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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