Six Arab countries today -- Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Palestine and Somalia -- are engaged in intense domestic negotiations or confrontational dynamics that may determine, in some cases, whether these countries remain intact or devolve into new forms of decentralized sovereignty or even division into new states in the most extreme cases. A seventh -- Tunisia -- is in the midst of an exciting national rebirth whose outcome may well influence other Arab societies to democratize. The outcomes of these situations all remain unclear, and their distinct transformational mechanisms are very different. Sudan and Tunisia are the most heartening, reflecting refreshing different means of Arab nationals determining their own future. The situation in Lebanon strikes me as the most fascinating and regionally relevant, however, because it captures the best and worst of contemporary Arab politics and governance.
The government-formation crisis in Lebanon is dangerous and complex because it is in reality six separate issues that converge rather brutally: domestic power-sharing among the 18 Lebanese political, sectarian and ethnic communities; a stand-off between Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s “March 14” camp and the Hizbullah-Michele Aoun-led “March 8” opposition; the incompatibility of a powerful, armed Hizbullah within and alongside a less robust Lebanese state; inter-Arab tensions pitting Saudi-led Arabs vs. Syrian-allied Arabs; the Syrian-Lebanese and Hizbullah-Hariri disagreements about the indictments and work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) that will try those accused of killing the late Rafik Hariri and 22 others; and, the wider confrontation between Iran and its many Middle Eastern supporters and the U.S.-Israeli-led foes of Iran in the region and globally.
Reaching minimum agreement on all six issues is difficult, but necessary, for any progress to happen. The amazing thing about the current situation of simultaneous negotiations, probes, threats, ultimatums, offers, enticements, concession and delaying tactics is precisely how the many different players and factors converge in this lively political dynamic that shows intermittent signs of success without actually consummating the deal. Three important speeches in recent days by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun clearly drew the battle lines over three of the six contentious issues: the STL, the new prime minister and cabinet, and government-opposition coexistence. In recent months, there have been intense discussions to seek common ground for agreement between the Lebanese parties, above all Hariri and Hizbullah, over the Special Tribunal, including discussing