Will Hariri Return to Head Lebanon’s New Government?

There is a great deal of controversy in Lebanon’s political arena surrounding the announcement of the new prime minister. While the country’s former prime minister, Saad Hariri, has rejected the task of forming the new government, he may return to the post if a series of conditions are met. These conditions were put forward before outgoing prime minister, Hassan Diab, took office, but have never been accepted by Hezbollah and its allies.

Within weeks of the resignation of the Lebanese government, headed by Diab, speculation and nominations for the new prime minister began. There has been a great deal of debate in Lebanon, not only over the choice for prime minister, but also the form the new government should take. This ranges from demands to forge a government of technocrats, to a government based on the political party system underpinned by the principle of broad national unity. There are also proposals to form a government that combines politicians and experts, in addition to calls for a multi-polar government that includes leaders of the influential and active political forces in the country.

Political stalemate and deep indignation toward the political elite in Lebanon intensified in the wake of the Beirut port explosion on August 4; this now complicates the formation of a new government. Some are counting on the impetus from France, as Paris urges the rapid formation of a rescue government that could gain the support of various political actors to implement a comprehensive package for political and economic reform. Meanwhile, others back the US push for the rapid formation of a new government. Washington is now paying more attention to Lebanon, initially insisting that conditions are met in order to form a competent government capable of implementing reforms and living up to the aspirations of the people. In this context, forming a government should be a step toward reform, instead of establishing a government to subsequently carry out the reform process.

Some see former Prime Minister Saad Hariri as a strong candidate to head the new government, as he was among those nominated for the position following the resignation of Hassan Diab’s government. Former Lebanese Ambassador to the United Nations Nawaf Salam and former Minister Khaled Kabbani were excluded from the running. As a result, Nabih Berri, Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon and one of the main pillars of the political process in the country, considers Hariri as the nation’s last hope. However, Hariri announced that he would not run for the position, requesting that his name not be put forward. He confirmed that with the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc, and in parliamentary consultations, the party will nominate a competent candidate who is able to form a government; one that ensures the success of this last opportunity for the country.

It appears, however, that Saad Hariri’s acceptance of the task of forming the new government is contingent upon meeting conditions he outlined before the formation of Hassan Diab’s government. These terms were rejected by Hezbollah and its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement led by Gebran Bassil. The conditions include forging a government of independent experts to fully implement reforms, far from the political hurdles that led to the failure and fall of Hariri’s previous government as a result of public opposition movements.

While the formation of Diab’s previous government proved to be a difficult task, forging a new government in Lebanon could now be easier, given the international attention, and the support and sympathy Lebanon has received in the wake of Beirut’s port blast. Most prominent of which has been France’s focus on Lebanon where President Emmanuel Macron is expected to return to Beirut early next month, following on from his first visit in the days after the explosion. This is in addition to US and Arab support. Importantly, leaders of the political process in Lebanon must realize that the intense unrest and anger at the grassroots level in Lebanon requires a serious response. This new response must be the determining factor in the consultations regarding the formation, nature and priorities of the new government.