Saad Hariri, who was tasked with forming the new government in Lebanon nine months ago, resigned after a 20-minute final meeting with President Michel Aoun, announcing that they had failed to come to an agreement. Emphasizing that there are "differences of opinion that can never be reconciled" with Aoun, Hariri noted that he did not find some of the changes that the president asked for to be acceptable and noted, "I suggested that he think a little more, but he refused."
Saad Hariri, the son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005, is in fierce competition with Michel Aoun and his son-in-law, Gibral Basil, who leads the largest group in parliament. While the U.S., France and Saudi Arabia support Hariri, Hezbollah and Iran are behind the opposite front. Therefore, the Hariri-Aoun+Basil showdown is actually a proxy of the tensions between each side’s respective external supporters.
After Saad Hariri's statement that he could not form the government, both sides began to give their own take on what went wrong. In an interview with Al-Jadeed TV, a prominent Lebanese television channel, Hariri said the following: “This country’s main problem is Michel Aoun, who is allied with Hezbollah. Hezbollah, on the other hand, protects Aoun. Such is the equation in the country. Anyone who cannot see this is blind.” The press release issued by the Presidency pointed that Saad Hariri did not include enough Christian ministers in the 24-member cabinet draft, and Hariri was accused of not abiding by the delicate religious balances of Lebanon.
With 18 different religious groups (Sunni, Shiite, Alevi/Nusayri, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, East Syriac, Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Chaldean Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Druze, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Ismaili, Jewish, Roman Catholic, Maruni Catholic, Protestant), Lebanon has perhaps the most stringent state system in the world. With limited resources, ambitious politicians, external factors, religious and sectarian faultlines, the two sides of the country are incapable of seeing eye-to-eye on anything.
Just after Hariri's resignation, the following cry for help of a Lebanese speaking to foreign media outlets sums up everything:
“The country is on fire. There’s no milk, no medicine, no gas, no electricity, no food, no chicken, no meat… The poor can't even find the money to buy pasta and yoghurt. Where are we headed?"
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Tensions between Saad Hariri and President Michel Aoun in Lebanon, who is trying to navigate a dark stormy sea without a compass, coincided with one of the most important anniversaries in the country's history:
Riyadh al-Sulh, the first prime minister of Lebanon after gaining independence from France in 1943, was killed on July 17, 1951 while visiting the Jordanian capital Amman. The bullets that killed Sulh were fired from the guns of the supporters of the pro-Syrian opposition Christian leader Antoun Saadeh, whom he had executed in 1949. After the assassination of the peace, protests were held all over Lebanon targeting Jordanian King Abdullah for "failure to protect his guest." “Where is the peace?” The anger of the crowds would later turn into bewilderment only three days later: On July 20, this time, King Abdullah would be killed inside the Masjid al-Aqsa by a Palestinian outraged by his "excessive" rapprochement with Israel.
The gentleman's agreement (National Pact) signed by Sunni Muslim Riyad al-Sulh, considered one of the founding fathers of Lebanon, with Christian leader Bashara Khouri in 1943, formed the basis of the current political system in Lebanon. According to the framework based on the last census made by the French in 1932, Maronite Catholic Christians would hold the presidency, Sunnis would hold the prime ministership, and Shiites would hold the parliamentary presidency. The agreement also decided that Christians must not seek help from the West and Muslims should not seek reunification with Syria.
This agreement, which was seen as the ultimate solution to all thsee problems, often remained on paper in the period that followed. Today, it is estimated that the proportion of Christians in the country has plummeted to 40 percent or even lower by some estimates. However, as to not disturb the current system no one dares to carry out a new census that allows for offices/positions are redistributed accordingly.
As time goes by, Lebanon's internal fragility increases, and foreign interventions intensify. What Westerners call a "failed state" (a state incapable of fulfilling its basic functions) is very valid for Lebanon today. The problem is that no one knows where the solution lies.