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    Any Misstep Could Imperil Lebanon

    Monday’s binding consultations to designate a new prime minister have left Lebanon with a handful of options, none of them very promising.

    First, however, it is important to puncture the false notion that Najib Mikati presents any sort of conciliatory or consensus candidate. Najib Mikati is, on the contrary, an entire partisan choice pushed forward by the March 8 camp. As such, the faction would never have named Mikati – or Omar Karami or anyone else, for that matter – unless their man agreed to a number of conditions. There need be no mystery around the conditions: rescinding the country’s cooperation with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the reversal of any other decisions or policies of the previous Cabinet which did not accord to March 8’s liking.

    Regardless of the conspiracy theories certain to begin flying in the local media on the backroom dealing that led to the selection of Mikati, it is obvious that March 8 would only propose a candidate who would adhere to their agenda.

    Thanks to the latest pirouette of Walid Jumblatt, it appears that Mikati will have enough votes in Parliament to secure the nomination. Unfortunately, the rival March 14 alliance has loudly ruled out the possibility of participating in a government headed by the preferred premier of March 8. Barring a deal between the polarized political camps over a Mikati administration, which seems at best a possibility for the distant future, we know now that another consensus cabinet will not arise from Mikati’s nomination.

    Should Mikati not decide to abandon his nomination under these circumstances, he is left with the scenario of trying to ram through a one-color cabinet comprised solely of March 8 representatives. That, it must be said, would be a very dangerous move. The demonstrations throughout many Sunni-dominated areas of the nation Monday – the closing of roads and the burning of tires – amounted to but a fraction of the reaction that such a one-sided cabinet would provoke.

    This country is a powder keg, and any misstep could have unforeseeable and tragic consequences. In Lebanon, a spat over a parking space or a building permit can serve as the spark of a clash that spreads beyond the control of the political class.

    President Michel Sleiman, in the post of protector of the Constitution, would also stand before a momentous choice – would he sign into existence a cabinet that would present so many risks to the nation? Najib Mikati, for his part, is not a naïve man. He helps own and control a billion-dollar business that has brought him in contact with the most powerful people in nations across the Gulf, Europe and Africa.

    In the hazardous near future of Lebanon, its leaders need to realize the potentially cataclysmic repercussions of the choices they face.

    The Daily Star
    25.01.2011

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