When I last wrote about the designation of Saad Hariri as Lebanon’s Prime Minister, reports of a putative Syrian-Saudi understanding led me to believe that the two regional rivals might take a more laissez-faire approach towards Lebanon. In fact, as both an-Nahar and al-Akhbar report, Syria and Saudi Arabia appear to have relegated their respective Lebanese allies to the sidelines. Presently the formation of the government is held up not only by issues such as apportioning of ministerial portfolios and Hezbollah’s weapons, but regional matters such as the status of Lebanese-Syrian relations and the future of the Syrian-Saudi-Lebanese triangular relationship. Also, plans are supposedly being hashed out for a joint summit to include the Syrian President, Saudi King, and all three Lebanese heads of government that will usher in a new, less fractious order.
Meanwhile, Christians in both the Majority and the Opposition appear marginalized by the negotiation process. Michel Aoun complained about the “traffic” of foreign ambassadors interfering in the formation of the government. It suffices to say that foreign statesmen are probably not crowding his residence in Rabieh. On the other hand, Nasib Lahoud urged that Arab rapprochement must not supplant either the Constitution nor the results of last month’s democratic elections. Lahoud and others such as Sami Gemayyel appear reluctant to come to terms with the Opposition’s “red lines”, such as guarantees on Hezbollah’s weapons. However, Hariri and the Shia leaders appear more amenable to compromise than their Christian allies. The fact that Amal and Hezbollah enjoy such strong relations with Syria, and likewise Hariri with Saudi Arabia, places Christian leaders who have staked out relatively hard line positions in a weak position.
That said, President Suleiman may be poised to re-assume his role as a balance between March 8 and March 14. Of all the myriad possibilities, the 15+10+5 formula in which the President names 5 ministers seems to be the most oft discussed compromise. Crucially, one of Suleiman’s ministers would be “friendly” to the Opposition, thereby giving March 14 a pseudo-blocking third. In this case Hezbollah/Amal would keep the Foreign Ministry, March 14 the Ministry of Finance, and President Suleiman the “security” portfolios (Interior and Defense). However, for his part, Suleiman is said to be reluctant to “give away” his portfolios simply to placate one side or the other.