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No New Cabinet in Lebanon Before the Taif Accords Are Killed off

No New Cabinet in Lebanon Before the Taif Accords Are Killed off

Friday, 1 January, 2021 - 18:00

French President Emmanuel Macron’s testing positive for Covid-19 came as a sad but helpful opportunity for the Lebanese establishment to save face. It was a perfect opportunity to prove the futility of all superficial deals attempted to solve an existential problem. The fact is that the problem lies deep in the conflicting sectarian interests connected to Lebanon’s identity and fate, as well as the future of the Middle East as a whole.

Some European approaches in the Middle East have failed because certain influential European powers misread the realities of regional politics; while others have failed due to specific, or conflicting interests with, or towards active regional players, led by Israel, Iran and Turkey. France, however, has no excuse when it misreads the situation, as it has had ancient and long associations there. These include being a main actor in:

- The Crusades (1095 – 1492) called from the Council of Clermont by Pope Urban II.

- The Eastern Question, that stemmed from the agreement between Francis I of France and the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The 1536 agreement, known as the “Capitulations of the Ottoman Empire”, granted France the right to protect the Christians in Ottoman lands. It would later have major repercussions on the maps of Europe and the Middle East, as well as Christian-Muslim relations.

- The Middle East enlightenment and opening-up resulting from Napoleon”s campaigns, and founding educational establishments and printing presses in Egypt and the Levant. Parallel to that, was the political and cultural development taking place in the “Maghreb” countries.

- The Sykes-Picot Agreement on partitioning the Ottoman Middle East after WW1, and France’s sponsoring of the specific “Lebanese identity” following the Paris Peace Conference of 1920.

- The building of Israel’s military arsenal and taking part in the 1956 Suez War.

- Leading Europe’s push for better relations with the Arab world, following Charles de Gaulle’s support of Algeria’s independence.

All the above suggests that France is well aware of the details of the culture and political equations in most parts of the Arab world. Thus, the Lebanese people should be excused when they built high hopes when President Macron announced his intention to visit Lebanon after the Beirut port disaster last August, and launch a political initiative to end the present political vacuum.

They were optimistic because things could only get better after a series of political, financial, social and public health crises. However, this optimism soon disappeared when Macron had to make a second futile visit that came after the failure to form a “non-political cabinet” headed by ambassador Mustafa Adib. What caused this setback was Lebanon’s leaders going back to square one in their maneuvers and conflicting demands. As a result, all the aura of reverence that had accompanied Macron’s visits, and the alleged backing he enjoyed from the US administration, disappeared.

In the meantime, a lot was said that Iran did not approve any settlement in Lebanon before knowing the result of the US election. Those who are familiar with the techniques of bargain and blackmail, long mastered by the Tehran regime, knew that it would not give concession to a soon-departing administration; let alone an administration that has “besieged” it politically. It would not concede to a leadership that withdrew from the JCPOA (the nuclear deal), tightened economic sanctions against it, killed two its top military strategists (Qassem Soleimani and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh), and weakened the Iranian military presence in eastern and southern Syria.

Furthermore, the “Iranian lobby” in Washington was not idle during Donald Trump’s four years in the White House; while his excessive enthusiasm to sponsor the Israeli-Arab normalization onslaught gave Tehran’s Arab henchmen additional “excuses” to justify their subservience.

On the other hand, inside the US, a mood change began to emerge after Covid-19. The Trump administration, which for the previous three years had gambled on a major economic boom, found itself between two bitter choices: either impose strict lockdowns, and risk the country’s economic wellbeing; or ignore the dangers of the pandemic sweeping urban areas (particularly, poor inner city neighborhoods), and so wrecking the public health sector, ruining its budgets, and causing public unrest. Indeed, this is what exactly happened, culminating in racist and security tensions.

Eventually, amid hesitation and constitutional wrangling between the White House and several state governors, US infections and fatalities broke all world records, and threw most economic sectors in a deep crisis. Consequently, with the countdown to the November elections underway, Trump had lost the winning “economic card” and with it the race, to his Democratic adversary Joe Biden.

Today, Iran may feel that its bet on a patient wait has succeeded. It surely expects Biden’s presidency to scale down its open animosity and relax the current sanctions, even if it did not return to Barack Obama’s policies of cooperation and understanding.

Moreover, the Iranian leadership thinks the Western European leaders who refused to join Trump in withdrawing from the JCPOA, would now move more freely towards Iran during the presidency of Biden, Obama’s ex-vice president.

Signs of Iran’s renewed confidence are now appearing clearly in its Arab “protectorates”, including Lebanon, where real power is the hands of the pro-Iran Hezbollah militia.

The clearest sign has been the return of President Michel Aoun’s party – which is the Christian party providing cover to Hezbollah’s influence – to blackmail, and raising its demands. These include the virtual disregard of Taif Accords in forming the new cabinet.

In calling for “confessional equilibrium”, “common standards” and fair “Christian representation” against a background of intense sectarian agitation – with tacit blessings from Hezbollah – Aoun’s party is, actually, attempting to kill off the Taif Accords.

As a reminder, these constitutional Accords were never supported by Iran or Aoun. Indeed, the Aoun-Hezbollah understanding was helped by their mutual opposition to them, because both partners allege that the Accords ensured the ascendency of “political Sunnism” at the expense of the “alliance of minorities” in the region. Furthermore, although those Accords were approved by the Syrian regime, the latter made sure a few weeks after their promulgation to be selective in implementing only the items that suited its interests.

Now, with the Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Aoun all in one camp, it looks as if no Lebanese cabinet will be formed before the Taif Accords are killed off.

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