Naharnet

Stalemate in Lebanon amid Arab Uprisings, Analysis

As popular revolts continue to shake the Arab world, the political stalemate in Lebanon is unlikely to end soon because key players Syria and Saudi Arabia are busy on other fronts, analysts say.

"The situation is very tense in the region and everyone is waiting to see how the political landscape is going to change," said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut.

"That means that Lebanon has been put on the backburner and will have to wait it out."

The tiny Mediterranean country has been without a government since January 12, when the powerful Shiite Hizbullah -- allied with Syria and Iran -- toppled the Western- and Saudi-backed prime minister, Saad Hariri.

Hariri was brought down over his refusal to disavow a U.N. probe into the 2005 assassination of his father Rafik Hariri.

According to media reports, Hizbullah and Syria might be implicated in the murder, but both have denied involvement.

Sunni billionaire businessman Najib Miqati was appointed on January 25 to form a new government with Hizbullah's blessing, but his initial optimism of a quick cabinet line-up has waned amid bitter rivalry between parties, even within his own camp, and the Arab uprisings.

"The 'game' of divvying up cabinet posts often obstructs government formation in Lebanon ... but there is no doubt that the current delay is primarily linked to the regional situation," Khashan told Agence France Presse.

"The balance of regional power is what will make or break the next government."

Damascus has long had influence over its smaller neighbor and is thought to have played a key role in the downfall of the Hariri government.

Saudi Arabia also wields political clout in Lebanon, where Sunnis and Shiites roughly make up two-thirds of the four million population.

Analysts say that the two countries today are preoccupied with containing rising discontent, both within and outside their borders, leaving Lebanon by the wayside.

"The region is currently dominated by uncertainty and caution, so Lebanon has automatically entered a stage where it will have to sit back and wait," said Khashan.

Political analyst Raghid al-Solh said that the final say when it comes to concerns about Beirut's next cabinet rested outside the country.

"Until major Arab and international players agree on Lebanon, the cabinet formation will remain pending," he said.

Hariri on Thursday accused Iran of meddling in Lebanon's affairs, saying that Tehran had taken Arab societies "hostage" and was stirring popular unrest in Bahrain and Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states have also lashed out at Tehran, accusing it of meddling in their affairs over the unrest in Bahrain, where the Sunni monarchy has cracked down on protests by the majority Shiites.

"Saudi Arabia is concerned with Bahrain and Yemen, and how the situations in both countries evolve will affect Riyadh's regional and international relations, and thus have a direct impact on the political situation in Lebanon," Solh told AFP.

But it is Syria, some analysts say, that continues to hold the strings in Lebanon.

"The key in Lebanon lies in the hands of Syria -- Iran's ally -- which looks as though it is waiting for an open confrontation between the Gulf states and Tehran," Khashan said.

Should that be the case, he added, "we can expect a political earthquake in Lebanon without warning."

Source: Agence France Presse


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