A stalled government, a suspended investigation, and presidential and parliamentary elections… 4 questions about Lebanon’s fateful crises in 2022
Beirut- The year 2022 heralds a new peak in the history of Lebanon. If in 2019 the signs of collapse appeared after decades of corruption, after the year 2020 witnessed one of the largest global explosions in the port of Beirut, and the political, judicial and economic crisis raged in 2021; 2022 may contain surprises as Lebanon awaits the two most important electoral entitlements: parliamentary and presidential.
Lebanon folds 2021 with an eloquent political impossibility, threatening the last year of President Michel Aoun’s reign, preventing Najib Mikati’s government from convening, encircling the investigations into the port explosion, and continuing to threaten the livelihood of the Lebanese.
Al Jazeera Net asks 4 questions that anticipate the fate of Lebanon’s most prominent files in 2022.
1. What is the fate of the suspension of government work in 2022?
Mikati formed his government on September 10, 2021, more than a year after the resignation of Hassan Diab’s government, and the French initiative faltered. The last session of the Mikati government was held on October 13, 2021, and was not held after that due to the refusal of the ministers of Hezbollah and the Amal movement to attend the sessions if the investigating judge was not removed from the explosion of the port of Beirut, Tariq Al-Bitar, and then the country witnessed the bloody events of Tayouneh on October 14 .
The suspension of the government’s work revealed the shaking of the relationship between Hezbollah and its ally, President Aoun’s team (the Free Patriotic Movement), as the latter demands an urgent cabinet meeting, contrary to the desire of the Shiite duo, while Mikati refuses to interfere in the judiciary, in return for his refusal to hold a session in the absence of one of the most prominent components of the government, i.e. Hezbollah A movement of hope.
In the opinion of writer and political analyst Hussein Ayoub, the suspension of the government’s work is linked to the separation of the trial of presidents and ministers from the judicial investigation with Al-Bitar. If a political and judicial exit is not available, her work will remain suspended until further notice. And “this does not mean, that the government will resign because its international immunity is available, but it lacks internal political immunity.”
As for the Lebanese researcher and writer Wissam Saadeh, he believes that Mikati lost his bet that the mere formation of a government would cause a positive shock, “but it reversed the fate of the French initiative, and we moved from a vacancy without a government to a government governed by disruption.”
Saadeh says that after the Syrian withdrawal (2005), Lebanon was moving between disruption, vacancy and a vacuum in government, and it reached its climax after the 2009 elections and the two-time extension of Parliament until 2018.
However, obstructing the work of the Mikati government, according to the researcher, was a continuous result of the breakdown of the presidential settlement (2016) after the October 17, 2019 uprising, without finding a parallel alternative to it.
That settlement was formed by a quadripartite alliance based on the strongest in their sects, between Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement (headed by Gibran Bassil) and the Future Movement (headed by Saad Hariri).
Saadeh said that excessive settlement without blowing up its components destabilized Hezbollah’s hegemony over the government, and consequently, “obstruction of the government’s work is inevitable, not only in the Bitar file, but in any file that will be taken as a pretext to explode differences, such as agreeing on the negotiation formula with the International Monetary Fund, or the foreign policy of Lebanon.” “.
2. What is the likely course of the investigations into the Port of Beirut explosion in 2022?
Judge Tariq Al-Bitar suspended the investigations of the port explosion on December 23, for the fourth time since he received the investigation about a year ago, after he was informed of the lawsuit of the former ministers Ghazi Zuaiter and Ali Hassan Khalil to transfer the case to another judge. Judicially fell.
Al-Bitar is the second judge to investigate the explosion of the port, after his predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, was removed in February 2021, against the background of suspicious cases against him for his allegations against former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and other ministers, which was completed and expanded by Al-Bitar, which exacerbated the anger of some political forces.
Wissam Saadeh says that the port’s investigations revealed the artificial inability to separate powers, and adds that the executive and legislative authorities deal with the judiciary as an authority attached to them, not an independent one.
Since the explosion of the port, according to Saadeh, the international community has not seriously pushed for the internationalization of the investigation, so the local investigation fell into the nets of the political forces, and it is no longer logical to bring a third judge because the first and the second did not like them. Therefore, “the investigation has become complicated, and justice is excluded, as long as Al-Bitar is unable to merely interrogate the accused political officials.”
Hussein Ayoub expects Al-Bitar to be the star of 2022 as he was in 2021, and it is likely that his indictment will be issued, without being able to arrest any politician, with the force of a political, not legal, fait accompli, and it may lapse with junior employees.
He said if the Supreme Court of Cassation was able to separate the file of presidents and ministers from the file of the judicial investigation and referred it to the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers, “it may be in the interest of the investigation, provided that a pressure force is formed that holds Parliament responsible by forming an investigation committee that pushes the Supreme Council to try presidents and ministers to convene to take a clear decision.” .
3. What are the challenges facing the parliamentary elections?
The Ministry of Interior has set May 15, 2022, as the date for holding the elections, and the electoral law has established the right of Lebanese expatriates to vote for the 128 parliamentary seats, contrary to the proposal of Representative Gibran Bassil to vote only for 6 representatives, which deepened his dispute with Hezbollah.
Hussein Ayoub finds that the elections will be held with the strength of the external data and the internal embarrassment. And the first challenge: “Most of the political components sensed damage to their streets as a result of the economic and social catastrophe, and their fear of negative recurrence in the elections.”
It is expected that the turnout will be low, while managing the elections and allocating their funds from the government is something that is feasible. The second challenge – and the most important, according to Ayoub – in the Sunni street, is the result of the Future Movement’s failure to resolve its participation, and the loss of Saad Hariri’s position, as if the elections were definitely postponed.
He said that the possibility of the Future Movement boycotting the elections legitimizes the Sunni arena for disturbing possibilities both internally and externally, in the absence of a balanced alternative to Hariri, which makes the extension of Parliament a possible possibility.
However, Wissam Saadeh finds that the most difficult challenge lies in the Christian arena, because the parliamentary elections take on a presidential character, and are tantamount to a referendum for the presidential elections. He said that the completion of the 2022 elections is the most difficult in the history of the Lebanese parliamentary elections, and whether it takes place or is postponed, the situation will be explosive.
He links the happiness of the elections to the country’s security track, and that it will be threatened if it is not managed well, “because it is linked to the frantic struggle for the presidency.”
4. What are the possible scenarios for the presidential elections?
Presidential elections are supposed to be held on October 21, 2022, and parliament is the one who elects the new president. Based on the data of the current moment, Hussein Ayoub is likely to enter Lebanon into a presidential vacuum, given the difficulty of agreeing on the name of a president.
Ayoub finds that Lebanon needs a conference similar to the Taif Agreement, as an obligatory passage for the election of a President of the Republic, which makes the country in a race between such a conference and the presidential elections.
Ayoub talks about data about the start of a discussion by international parties about the available options and scenarios, which are met by powerful Lebanese political and party parties, who have opened their books and are conducting exercises on the formula that Lebanon needs. And “if the founding conference is held in 2023, the presidential vacuum will become a mandatory passage, and consequently, the conference may be a way out of the presidential vacuum and an inevitable formula.”
For his part, Wissam Saadeh points out that the poised Maronite forces are facing internal and external difficulties in marketing for the presidency. After establishing the idea of a “strong president with his sect” (with Aoun), Saadeh rules out the Christian street’s acceptance of a president who is not very popular with the Maronites. He recalled that the presidential elections were historically the result of an external consensus, an American vanguard, a Gulf approval and a kind of Iranian acceptance, and before that it was the Syrians.
Saadeh agrees with Ayoub, adding that the election of a president requires crossing a new moment, such as the Taif Agreement (1989) or Doha (2008). Without such a moment, the corners are rotated – according to him – under Arab and Western sponsorship, “it is not possible to hold presidential elections.”
He said that when the presidential elections are blocked, the obstacles facing the parliamentary elections are exacerbated, pointing to the possibility that Aoun will not leave the Republican Palace, handing the country to the presidential vacuum, and “as if his team was distinguishing between the concepts of his constitutional mandate and his political covenant.”