The 1989 Taif Accord that ended the Lebanese civil war (1975-90) transformed the position of prime minister into an effective partner in power.
The position was consolidated with the arrival of Rafik Hariri to the post in late 1992. The businessman managed to invest his extensive Arab and international relations in rebuilding a country that was destroyed by 15 years of war.
His shock assassination on February 14, 2005 re-created the imbalance in constitutional institutions, effectively marginalizing the role of the premiership and diminishing its role in the national equation.
No one argues that Hariri was an extraordinary phenomenon in Lebanon’s history. His legacy has weighed heavily on his successors, who have weakened the top Sunni post in the country.
Former MP Mustafa Alloush said Hariri was a unique figure.
“He had an Arab and international vision and his role was part of that Arab and international role, as demonstrated in his strong ties to the Arab Gulf, starting with Saudi Arabia, and global decision-makers, as well as Egypt, Türkiye, Pakistan, Morocco and others,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
He recalled Hariri’s famed statement, “no one is greater than their country,” adding that the slain PM was actually “bigger than Lebanon.”
“He did not covet power, but his vision was based on diversity, democracy and culture. This project protects Lebanon from the creed of leftist groups that don’t believe in the idea of the state,” he explained.
“It also protects Lebanon from Sunni fundamentalism and Shiite extremism represented in Iran’s Vilayet al-Faqih. He strived to achieve this project, which ultimately cost him his life,” lamented Alloush
No one denies that Lebanon began to rapidly decline soon after Hariri’s assassination. It floundered in crises for years before now reaching total collapse.
Alloush remarked that Hariri’s successors “lacked experience and charisma. Successive Sunni leaders agreed to compromises over power and its rewards, which led us to catastrophe.”
Former MP Fares Soaid said the marginalization of the premiership can also be attributed to regional factors, namely Iran’s hegemony over Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
This situation marginalized the role of Sunnis throughout the region and brought the rise of minorities that have largely succeeded in winning over Christians and Druze, he explained to Asharq Al-Awsat.
“Hariri’s assassination removed a large Sunni barrier that was standing in the way of the Iranian drive in the region,” he noted.
Saddam Hussein’s execution in 2003 and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004 all played in Iran’s favor, he went on to say.
Soaid highlighted one successful premiership in Lebanon after Hariri’s murder.
He recalled how Fouad Siniora succeeded in withstanding all sorts of pressure from Hezbollah and its allies during his term in office from 2005 to 2009.
At the time, the anti-Syria March 14 camp was still active and Siniora could rely on its support in taking decisive decisions in government.
Soaid highlighted Hezbollah’s invasion of Beirut on May 7, 2008 and the Doha agreement that resolved the ensuing crisis, granting the party a blocking third power in government. This was the beginning of the marginalization of state institutions.
Hariri employed his vast network of international relations to serve Lebanon’s interests. His assassination upended political life and changed the equation.
Lebanese political analyst Khaldoun al-Sharif told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The assassination undermined the presidency and other political positions.”
Political rivals started to abuse their positions, rather than carrying out their duties in serving the people, they began to purse their own interests at the expense of the population and their future, he explained.
The system of rule that ensued after Hariri’s murder has undermined the presidency, premiership and the parliament speakership, he added.
Sharif said the situation came to a head during the 2015 and 2019 protests against the ruling class.
Soaid agreed with the assessment.
The marginalization not only applies to the premiership, but to the presidency and speakership, he remarked. Any decision taken by the holders of these positions are now ineffective without Hezbollah’s seal of approval, he added.
He predicted that this situation will persist until Iran’s regional role in contained and until Lebanese officials take an adamant stand in defending their country’s identity, Arabism, existence and state.
There are several factors that transformed Lebanon from a progressive and pioneering state under Hariri to a failed state after his assassination.
Sharif said one of the factors is that officials no longer seek the interests of the people, but are rather embroiled in corruption or protecting the corrupt.
Confronting the possession of arms outside state authority (Hezbollah’s arsenal) is no longer the sole goal of political battles, he stated.
Lebanon has to now tackle its devastating economic crisis that erupted in 2019.
Sharif noted how Sri Lanka recently succeeded in reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund within ten days while Lebanon has yet to approve a single reform or a state budget since 2019.
“How are the people expected to trust in their such rulers?” he wondered.
“The Lebanese sense that all presidencies in their country are ineffective. They are no longer concerned with the disputes between the rival parties after realizing that these forces only disagree with each other over their own personal gains,” he added.