Lebanon deal underscores Hezbollah’s clout

Hariri’s nomination as PM is part of a deal that got Hezbollah-ally Michel Aoun elected as President

November 05, 2016 11:38 pm | Updated December 02, 2016 01:43 pm IST - BEIRUT:

PM-in-waiting:  Children hold a picture of Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri as they celebrate his appointment in Beirut earlier in the week.

PM-in-waiting: Children hold a picture of Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri as they celebrate his appointment in Beirut earlier in the week.

Lebanon’s President asked Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri to form a new government earlier in the week after he won the support of a majority of MPs and the endorsement of the influential parliament speaker.

Mr. Hariri’s nomination is part of a political deal that resulted in the election of Christian leader Michel Aoun, a close ally of the Iran-backed group Hezbollah, as head of State on Monday, ending a two-and-a-half year long presidential vacuum.

A big concession on the part of Mr. Hariri, the deal has underscored Hezbollah’s dominant position in Lebanon and the diminished role of Mr. Hariri’s regional backer, Saudi Arabia, which appears more focused on confronting Iran elsewhere in the region.

The quick formation of a new administration with cross-party support will help revive government in a country where political conflict has paralysed decision-making, economic development and basic services, and raised fears for its stability.

Mr. Hariri (46) said he aimed for the quick formation of a government of “national accord”. Speaking at the presidency, he said: “We owe it to the Lebanese to start working as soon as possible to protect our country from the flames burning around it, to reinforce its immunity in the face of terrorism”.

Lebanon has been buffeted by instability from the war in Syria, where Hezbollah is fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad. Jihadists have mounted attacks in Lebanon targeting Shia areas and the army.

Underscoring Hezbollah’s continued mistrust of Mr. Hariri, who remains critical of its role in Syria, the group did not name him as PM though it is expected to take part in his Cabinet. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, head of the Shia Amal movement and a close Hezbollah ally, had earlier come out in opposition to the deal struck by Mr. Hariri and Mr. Aoun.

However, while announcing his decision to endorse Mr. Hariri for PM on Thursday, Mr. Berri indicated he would cooperate in efforts to set up the new administration. “If there was no intention to cooperate, we would not have named him,” he said.

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