Lebanon In Limbo After Government Collapses
Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Lebanon on Friday, saying there is "no alternative" to dialogue in resolving his country's latest political crisis.
Hezbollah and its opposition allies pulled out of a national unity government this week over fears that members of the militant Shiite group could be implicated by an international court in the assassination of Hariri's father in 2005.
In a modest Beirut office building, the secretary-general of Hariri's coalition watches a television broadcast of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the U.N.-backed court that could, if widespread predictions come true, indict Hezbollah members in the bombing death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Faris Souhaid says Hezbollah's sponsors, Syria and Iran, don't want to see the group's image tarnished, and the government collapsed because they were unable to persuade Saad Hariri to denounce the tribunal looking into the murder of his father.
"Justice -- it's a new concept in the Middle East. In this part of the world we kill, and if you are powerful there is no justice for you. It's the first time after the civil war in Lebanon that we had the interest of the international community to assure an international tribunal for Lebanon and for Lebanese. We are supporting justice," he says.
Possibility Of Greater Role For Hezbollah
I believe in justice, I believe the international court must prevail. But we have to take into consideration the social fabric of Lebanon. We have to understand that a new power has risen in Lebanon, which is the Shia power. And they could make life hell.
Hezbollah has held the key to bringing down the government since 2008, when its well-armed militiamen overran large parts of the country, forcing Hariri to accept a severely weakened "national unity" government.
Now, under Lebanese rules, lawmakers must choose another Sunni Muslim as prime minister. Opposition lawmaker Abbas Hashem says his side will never agree to Hariri. He also says the international tribunal "will be ignored."
Analysts say the outcome is far from certain, but there is the possibility that those who think of Hezbollah simply as a terrorist group may be forced to watch it and its allies assume control of the state. Much depends on former Hariri ally Walid Jumblatt. The Druze leader controls the swing votes and has been hinting he may back the opposition.
Paul Salem of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says should Hezbollah actually get a hand on the reins of power, Washington may have to revisit some of its policies, including an estimated $100 million a year in aid to the Lebanese army.
"If this becomes a government very much influenced by Hezbollah and Syria and other allies here, it will be very difficult for the U.S. Congress and U.S. administration to maintain that level of support," he says.
One newspaper columnist in Lebanon suggested that the rise of a Hezbollah-led government could lead to a series of international sanctions, modeled on those already enacted against Syria.
Fears Of New Violence
With no signs of violence to date, for most Lebanese it's been business as usual. In Beirut's bustling Hamra neighborhood, 72-year-old Abu Adnan, a Sunni, says underneath their casual exterior, however, people are definitely worried.
"For us, we really want the Americans to make a move. Especially if it's a Hezbollah government -- that would be like living under the Nazis. We don't know why the Americans aren't acting," he says.
Former airline pilot Sam Awad, however, says he knows that for Washington, the international tribunal is the most important thing. But he hopes someone considers what a new round of violence would do to people in Lebanon.
"I believe in justice, I believe the international court must prevail. But we have to take into consideration the social fabric of Lebanon. We have to understand that a new power has risen in Lebanon, which is the Shia power. And they could make life hell," he says.
The process of nominating candidates for prime minister begins Monday. Draft indictments in the Hariri tribunal probe could go to the pretrial judge for confirmation later this month.
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