x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lebanon's leaders must be better than this

A country where it takes the threat of war to compel compromise is not one where long-term stability, so necessary for a country's development, can take hold.

As factional infighting threatens Lebanon's fragile peace, the country's leaders appear disturbingly unconcerned with sharing either power or responsibility."[Saad] Hariri was the one to choose the democratic game," the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told the Beirut-based As-Safir yesterday, placing the burden for the Lebanese government's collapse last week squarely on to the shoulders of his former ally. "He bears a big responsibility."

Lest Mr Jumblatt absolve himself of his own obligations, it is incumbent upon him and all of Lebanon's leaders to preserve the peace as the UN Tribunal into Rafik Hariri's assassination continues to loom over disagreements about the shape of Lebanon's government. The inquiry into who killed the former prime minister in 2005 could have been an opportunity for national reconciliation or at least soul-searching. Instead, the investigation has fuelled the country's sectarian angers, putting Lebanon at the brink.

For some, particularly for Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon's powerful Shia militia, the Tribunal has been a tool to stoke confessional tensions. He has threatened to "cut off the hand" of anyone who attempts to arrest a member of his organisation for a role in Rafik Hariri's murder. The resignation last week of 11 members of the Lebanese cabinet aligned with Hizbollah followed Mr Nasrallah's raucous rhetoric, leading to the collapse of Saad Hariri's government.

Mr Hariri spent the better part of this month scrambling for support abroad, choosing not to step into the melee. Many of Mr Hariri's supporters, however, have not followed suit. They unhelpfully joined the fray yesterday, setting tyres on fire and blocking roads, protesting against the offering of the Hizbollah-backed billionare Najib Miqati as a potential prime minister. Mr Miqati is likely to assume the post but the roots of the country's instabilities will remain. They have been made more dangerous by the events of the past few weeks.

It was only three years ago that an accord in Doha put an end to bloody street battles in Beirut. The agreement provided Hizbollah with veto power in the Lebanese government, putting an end to an 18-month stalemate between Hizbollah and Fouad Siniora's Sunni-led coalition. Perhaps the least that can be hoped for now is that the leaders of Lebanon's factions - however grudgingly - strike a similar agreement. But Lebanon deserves more. A country where only the threat of war can compel parties to compromise is not one where long-term stability, so necessary for a country's development, can take root.