Lebanon's presidential crisis and the Taif Accord

Lebanon's presidential crisis and the Taif Accord
4 min read
04 Dec, 2015
Comment: The deal to end the Lebanese civil war has not helped the country's leaders to build a viable state, writes Karim Barakat.
Lebanon has been without a president for more than 18 months amid political deadlock [AFP]

A possible breakthrough in the presidential stalemate in Lebanon has received significant attention. Following a meeting between Sleiman Frangieh and Saad Hariri in Paris, Frangieh has emerged as a viable candidate.

A consensus over Frangieh's presidential bid, which would end an 18-month impasse, is supposed to come along with a number of preconditions, the first of which involves accepting Hariri as prime minister of a new government.

This carries with it the promise of lifting the government from its idleness, at least in part, allowing for the transition towards some minimal form of state functionality.

But several impediments appear to hinder the chances of any deal. Though Frangieh has been given the nod by Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, and Nabih Berri, his candidacy has been the focus of criticism from both sides of Lebanese politics.

Obstacles

Hariri's Christian allies in the March 14 coalition, primarily the Lebanese Forces and the Phalangists, have expressed concern over Frangieh's strong ties to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, and with his assiduous commitment to the March 8 coalition.

     Hizballah has been relentlessly managing any clashes that emerge between Aoun and Berri


Meanwhile, the Hariri-Frangieh agreement has not been spared criticism from the candidate's own side. Michel Aoun, who has been vying for the presidency since Michel Sleiman's term ended in May 2014, considers this to be an attempt to eliminate him from the race.

So far, Aoun has managed to maintain, with difficulty, support for his candidacy among the major March 8 parties, with the exception of Berri, parliament's speaker. Recent reports seem to have produced a tension between the two, one that has been sharpened by Frangieh's announcement that he still maintains his commitment to Aoun as the primary candidate.

But this tension has also been a source of unease for Hizballah. For more than a year, Hizballah has been relentlessly managing any clashes that emerge between Aoun and Berri.

With Hizballah's continued involvement in Syria, any fracture in the March 8 coalition could leave a significant impact on party's domestic support.

In addition, the presidential bid is tied to a number of other factors that do not pertain to personal ambitions and petty conflicts. Hizballah's concern that a "trap" may be devised by March 14 to shatter the March 8 coalition, along with its effort to maintain good relations with Aoun, has led to the Shia movement retaining its support for Aoun as presidential candidate.

This deferral, however, is also linked to Hizballah's conviction that regional developments are working in favour of the March 8 coalition. Following the Russian intervention in Syria and the appearance of a coalition against IS, with Germany being the latest to join, Assad's position in Syria is rendered more secure, which brings about a slight shift in balance in favour of March 8.

But more importantly, the presidential crisis merely constitutes a tiny fragment of the many issues the country faces. These include the formation of a new government and the adoption of a new electoral law, in the presence of a self-appointed parliament that has extended its mandate twice so far.

     Lebanese politics have been relegated to an endless strategy game that need not culminate in a resolution


Decayed state

Accordingly, any final consensus on Frangieh's candidacy remains hostage to a number of internal factors, in addition to capricious regional politics.

But in the meantime, Lebanese politics have been relegated to an endless strategy game that need not culminate in a resolution. With the parliament allowing for itself to extend the status quo as it pleases, and with a looming electoral law that guarantees the reproduction of the same political system, and thus the same dysfunctional state, perhaps the question of the presidency ought to be treated as far less significant.

The presidential crisis has been, up to this point, characterised as an infringement that jeopardises the Christian position of power, and thus that it primarily, but not strictly, concerns the Christian community.

But it is essential to realise that the election of a president will not lead to the resolution of any of the conflicts that continue to plague internal politics and produce countless deadlocks.

Lebanese politics has been defined as being in a persistent condition of stalemate since the Taif accord in 1989. Though the agreement itself ended a terrible civil war, it has also produced a state that has as its sole function an incessant suspension of a return to the state of war.

This failure to producing a state, however, ought to question the viability of the Taif model altogether, a model which, unfortunately, is guaranteed to persist due to the support it receives from political leaders and key regional players who benefit from it.


Karim Barakat is an instructor of philosophy in the American University of Beirut. 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.