x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sunny side of a political stalemate

The inability of the incoming majority to get approval for a cabinet is welcome news for Lebanese looking forward to a tension-free summer.

BEIRUT // Although Lebanon's political elite continue to claim progress is being made on the formation of a new cabinet to govern the country after June's hotly contested parliamentary elections, the inability of the incoming majority to get approval for a cabinet is being met with apathetic shrugs by many Lebanese.

The election pitted a Hizbollah-led opposition alliance of Shiite and some Christians against the incumbent government supported by Sunnis, Christians and Druze and backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia. After the run-up did not lead to widespread political violence as many had feared, most Lebanese appear content with a political stalemate over the formation of a cabinet as long as the country remains stable.

Since an outbreak of sectarian violence between opposition and majority supporters roiled through the country in May 2008, killing scores of people, Lebanon has seen an unusually stable period and many fear the cabinet deliberations could return the country to instability. It is an impasse that even some supporters of the so-called March 14 alliance, which kept control of the government despite predictions of an opposition victory, seem able to live with in return for safety and stability. And with more than two million tourists expected from other Arab countries and from Europe flooding into Beirut and spending money in the tourism-reliant economy, Lebanon seems content to put off difficult political questions until after the tourist season.

"I have not been to Beirut for the last four years," said Hassan Hamoud, 28, who lives and works in Dubai. "Each summer I start planning my trip something happens. This summer I waited for the elections to end, and I'm surprised how things went calm and it is continuing to be calm. I think the best thing the Lebanese politicians would do for the Lebanese people is to postpone the formation of the government till the end of summer; let us enjoy it for once."

Even the fast-food industry is booming and reluctant to see anyone make changes to the current political stalemate, according to Walid Abu Saifan, 32, who delivers food on his scooter and supports the incoming government. "I don't care if the new government will be formed any time soon. Work has been good, thank God," he said. "There are many tourists in town and we are staying busy making good tips. If the politicians remain calm then we will sure have a good summer, one we have been waiting for. And I think it's better if they don't form a government now; maybe one party won't like the formation and it will create some tension that we don't need this summer."

The political dispute centres around the formation of the Lebanese cabinet by the prime minister-designate, Saad Hariri, whose political party, the Future Movement, led a winning coalition in June's elections. Although Lebanon's constitution does not set any conditions on the make-up of the government or cabinet, both tradition and Lebanon's deeply fractured sectarian environment impose some restraints on one-party rule. And with the opposition currently demanding one-third of the cabinet's seats to control a veto over major decisions, a request Mr Hariri has dismissed, it is believed that forcing through a unilateral cabinet over the objections of Hizbollah and its allies could spark a return to tensions and possible violence.

The Hizbollah MP Hussein Khalil yesterday told the opposition-run Al Manar television station that the group continues to insist on a significant role in the new cabinet or it will not participate. Forming an effective cabinet without the participation of at least some opposition parties would be difficult for Mr Hariri. "The opposition wants active participation in the government and would not accept to be added numbers in the cabinet," Mr Khalil said after meeting with the Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun.

He said "the participation should be effective in decision making, otherwise there is no need to participate in the cabinet". But with a heavy investment in the summer tourist season, not to mention the hope of returning Lebanon to the top of the regional holiday destinations, even Mr Hariri's supporters appear fine with little progress on the formation of a new government. "They can take as much time as they want as long as the situation remains calm," said Hisham Shehab, 38. "I just bought two cars that I'm renting to Gulfies. So I want to keep on working to pay [them] off.

'The current government is filling in good so it's not like we don't have a government. "Sheikh Saad will form the right government, [so] I'm optimistic about this summer, as long as the Syrians and the Saudis are on good terms. "I tell all the Lebanese politicians let us have a good summer; it's been a while now. "The last three summers were really bad and Beirut started to lose its reputation. I think this summer is our chance to prove that Beirut is a safe city for tourism."

mprothero@thenational.ae