While I continue to maintain that the current cabinet crisis is due to the telecommunication ministry, I have not explained the other major factor holding up the formation of a cabinet and explains Sfeir’s intervention: the battle within the Christian community.
A Lebanese friend of mine pointed out the obvious that Sfeir’s intervention was because the March 14 Christians, who Sfier openly supports, are very concerned that they will be given the short end of the deal with March 8 and Aoun in any deal to end the cabinet crisis. The same old issue of Geagea and Gemayel wanting important cabinet positions to represent the fact that they are the strong men of the Christians. Also of course because they feel as part of the winning coalition of March 14 that won the elections they deserve more prominent positions in the cabinet than Aoun. This was articulated when Gemayel was angered by the first cabinet that Hariri proposed, which would have given Kataeb the tourism ministry. This it was believed was not a “significant” ministry. Aoun of course wants the telecommunication ministry for his allies, i.e. Hezbollah, and the interior or justice ministry to show that he is worthy of being the Christian strong man. The FPM claim that they represent half of the Christians (which is more or less right) and have more parliamentary seats to show for it than Kataeb or the Lebanese Forces.
The battle for monopoly of representation among the Christians continues and has no doubt added to the delay. But I think the Christians are disenfranchising themselves rather than prolonging the crisis. If it is in the interests of everyone else to form a cabinet then the Christian leaders would be dragged along kicking and screaming.
Is Lebanon coming out of its Cabinet Crisis that has been going on since June? Well just like the cabinet crisis itself no one has a clue what is going on. I just met someone from the Carter Centre who has done the rounds with the various political analysts who said their response was much the same. Each has their different theory but they are all speculating.
No Saudi – Syria gain
I still stick to my view that the essential dilemma is the vital telecommunications network. The interesting aspect of this particular cabinet crisis is that it has become increasingly clear, but far from crystal, that the delay is very much an internal affair. Despite the protestations from all sides as to the usual external interference this particular issue I think has a strong internal failure. There is no benefit for Saudi or Syria to have a cabinet crisis in Lebanon at the moment and both appear not to want confrontation; this given the recent open display of reconciliation and also the announcement from actors, such as France, that Syria is not to blame for the current paralysis. Syria and Saudi have an active interest to push the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons and the tribunal to a side for now, so why the delay?
What’s going on in Lebanon?
The internal dynamic is stressed by the bizarre intervention by Patriarch Sfeir. He stated in a interview, with al-Massira, that: Hezbollah acts in the interests of Iran and that Syria will return if not managed properly. In other words do not give in to any opposition demands regarding the cabinet formation because they are external demands. This statement, knee deep in hypocrisy, has unsurprising ruffled a few feathers on the opposition side that if we are to believe the media had almost reconciled with the government as to the make up the cabinet.
The Patriarch has over the years shown an active desire to involve himself in the political situation but only at vital moments. This was articulated just before the June Elections where the Patriarch made provocative statements against March 8 and Hezbollah in particular; the intervention by Sfeir was seen as vital part of the March 14 victory. So why make the provocative statement now? I cannot find a reason, it does not make sense. If you are stating a principal as to how to approach the cabinet crisis why do you wait until three months when signs appear that it may finally get resolved?!
Impact of the cabinet crisis
The most worrying aspect of this cabinet crisis is that it is beginning to lose meaning. No one can understand what is going on. This loss of meaning is creating a deep apathy in Lebanon (not that it was by any means shallow to begin with). The elections really created a buzz within Lebanon’s civil society as to the role of politics in the possibility of change and reform. The cabinet crisis and its laborious continuation has decidedly fizzed out every little bit of buzz there was. The impact for Lebanese politics in the ever-increasing apathy is that already rotting institutions will no doubt continue and the break down of the state will occur further. The result of this of course is that the fat cats get fatter….