Beirut (AsiaNews) – Like St Thomas the Lebanese want to see before believing. Their tortured history, with many surprises, taught them not to cry victory too soon. For the time being the agreement signed by the majority and the opposition in Doha’s Sheraton Hotel after a sleepless night remains a vague plan that must be turned into facts. At the same time many in Beirut are getting a kick out of the fact that the deal was struck on the eve of Saint Rita, the patron saint of ‘Lost Causes’, who is very popular among Lebanon’s Christians.
For the Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa, who is enjoying the fruit of his labour, the solution to the crisis is not only a compromise with local import but affects the entire region to the extent that it involves powers like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, not to mention the United states. The fact that Syria and Israel are involved in indirect talks is not entirely foreign to the outcome. Still the outcome is ambiguous, something whose advantages are today not entirely clear.
Lebanon starts anew from relatively strong bases from which it can rebuild its institutions after months of paralysis. Next Sunday it will have a new president after six months without one and 18 months of an endless crisis that unnerved, impoverished and pushed the country to the brink of another civil war. It is a success that no one can deny even though the Lebanese dare not believe in it yet.
Much remains to be done to prevent the country from sliding into relapse. In fact the real problems will start right after the election General Michel Sleiman, the single candidate to the presidency, with the appointment of a new prime minister and national unity government and the release of a ministerial declaration which is how a government programme is called in Lebanon.
As agreed in Doha the new prime minister will come from the ranks of the parliamentary majority. After showing statesmanship during the crisis, outgoing Prime Minister Fuad Siniora is likely to be confirmed in his post, but Saad Hariri has also been touted as a possibility. Mr Hariri is a leader in the majority coalition and head of the powerful but mostly Sunni Muslim Future Movement; he is also the son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who was slain in February 2005.
Setting up a new government will also pose major difficulties and create tensions between majority and opposition, each of which will try to get a hold of important ministries like defence, interior, foreign affairs and justice. The latter will be particular important since along with the international tribunal it will be in charge of trying Hariri’s assassins. The tribunal itself is being installed in The Hague and should start operating in a few months time.
It is almost certain that the interior ministry will not go to either majority or opposition but to someone handpicked by the new president. It is in fact the ministry that will organise parliamentary elections in spring 2009 which should produce a new majority, one that no one will challenge, one that will mark the beginning of a new political dispensation based on alternating majorities rather than governments of “national unity” which are de facto mini parliaments.
The “ministerial declaration” will reflect the debates that are stirring the country. What kind of Lebanon do the Lebanese want? What will be the relationship between the state and Hizbollah, which is more than a party and more like a society and state in the making with an army that can field tens of thousands of fighters and has weapons that the Lebanese army can only dream of.
Why did the Doha Declaration set the bases to restart Lebanon’s political life but fail to address the country’s basic problem, which has been left untouched, as well as other issues like the normalisation of relations with Syria and the dismantlement of two bases held by armed pro-Syrian Palestinians.
Prime Minister Siniora has asked the Arab League for help to settle these questions, a step that is indispensable if the country is ever to find stability. Qatar has also pledged its support in case of need. What is clear though is that Lebanon is not yet over its pains if it wants to save its soul and threatened democracy.