Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanon yesterday entered a new phase of political crisis following the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati. This latest development stems from a dispute between Mikati and the March 8 alliance—the Hezbollah-led coalition that forms the majority within the Lebanese government—over a potential elections law and a security appointment.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman today accepted Prime Minister Mikati’s resignation, thereby rendering the announcement official.
Mikati was quoted as saying, “My decision was a personal one . . . Now it is important for dialogue to begin and for a salvation government to be established during this difficult period.”
He added: “I thank God that I left office the same way I came in, with integrity.”
Mikati became prime minister in 2011 after Hezbollah and its March 8 partners brought down Saad Hariri’s unity government. However, the formation of a new government proved difficult in light of Lebanon’s existing political alignments, and ultimately tensions over Syria placed the former prime minister at odds with the group that brought him to power in the first place. Although Mikati adopted a policy of dissociation from the Syrian conflict, violence between opponents and supporters of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has already spilled over into Lebanon.
Although the conflict in neighboring Syria has placed immense strain on Lebanon and its ruling regime, it is noticeable that Mikati’s resignation comes after irresolvable disagreements over two domestic issues.
Mikati had been engaged in a two-day ministerial meeting but he remained locked in an impasse with Hezbollah, which opposed extending the term of a prominent senior security official—Major General Ashraf Rifi, head of Lebanon’s internal security forces—who is due to retire next month. Hezbollah also rejected the creation of an oversight body for the planned June parliamentary elections. The government is said to have so far held off agreeing on the membership of this oversight body due to fears that it would mean Lebanon’s forthcoming elections being conducted on the basis of a decades-old electoral law.
Meanwhile, Lebanon is faced with a mounting security crisis as clashes returned yesterday to the city of Tripoli, Mikati’s home town, between Alawite and Sunni neighborhoods. The overnight violence left 6 dead and 20 wounded, including three members of the Lebanese army, which is struggling to contain the violence in the city. Two further people were also wounded on Saturday morning, reportedly by sniper fire.