The Man Both Sides Agreed On

09 April 2013 | 17:55 Code : 1914753 Interview General category
An interview with Seyyed Morteza Nematzadeh, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs
The Man Both Sides Agreed On


Could you first tell us a bit about the resignation of Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister?

Developments in Lebanon, which to a great extent are impacted by conditions in Syria, had entered a critical atmosphere. The issue of the parliamentary elections was added to this crisis and increased domestic problems and removed any clear prospect of Lebanon’s future. Therefore, considering the differences between the two major factions active in Lebanon’s political scene, i.e. the March 14 alliance led by Sa’ad Hariri and the March 8 alliance led by Hezbollah, certain conditions were created in which, in the end, Najib Mikati felt that there was no possibility to work under such circumstances. Furthermore, foreign pressure continued to be exerted upon Mikati to enforce the elections laws based on the old rules and regulations which could have strongly impacted the final outcome of the elections. This was the same issue Saad Hariri pursued as well. Thus, these developments led Mikati to resign from his post and leave Lebanon’s political scene and this new vague and volatile situation.

Tamam Salam gained the strong vote of the parliament to become prime minister. Considering the fact that he is affiliated with the March 14 alliance, how did the two sides, i.e. the March 14 and the March 8 alliances, put their differences aside and choose him?

It seems that the selection of Tamam Salam, who is affiliated with the March 14 alliance, just as it was with Mikati, is due to the political intelligence of Hezbollah and its allies. Hezbollah and its allies make efforts to pass Lebanon, which is under internal and external political pressure and threats and is greatly impacted by the Syrian crisis, through this stage with the least possible tension with the March 14 alliance. I believe that Hezbollah’s acceptance of the minimums is aimed at maximizing the government which will come to power so that it can work with the March 14 alliance on one hand and cooperate with the March 8 alliance along the lines of the minimums. In general, this is a very positive view that Hezbollah has had from the past.

Thus, in your opinion, can Hezbollah reach an agreement with Tamam Salam despite the concerns it has?

I believe that they have reached an agreement and that is why he has gained the majority of votes. The reason is that in the recent past Hezbollah and its allies had the majority, of course till the time Walid Jumblatt had given his votes to the Hezbollah coalition. This has happened at the present time as well with Walid Jumblatt’s agreement, who has made changes in his positions and demanded a national government with Hezbollah participation. Thus, the selection of Tamam Salam which took place without any problems and with the votes of the majority of the parliamentarians indicates that the new prime minister is agreed on by both sides.

Considering the domino-like political and security developments in the region, will the selection of Tamam Salam impact Lebanon’s strategy with regard to Syria?

The government’s policy with regard to Syria will not change. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Lebanon has taken a neutral position based on non-intervention, one which will continue. But certain issues of difference will remain, the impacts of which will also continue. The issue of controlling the borders, preventing the dispatch of human forces and weapons by the Salafi movement into Syria, interactions with the Syrian refugees and some armed opposition forces who have entered Lebanon causing tensions in the borders between Syria and Lebanon, are daily problems which will continue to exist. For example, it is possible that the situation in Tripoli, in the north of Lebanon, would be impacted by the tensions caused by the Syrian crisis. But overall, we will not be witnessing significant changes in relations between Lebanon and Syria in the political and security sectors, although it is expected that, considering Lebanon’s fragile domestic situation from a political, security, and religious aspect, Tamam Salam will take measures to reduce tensions.

What is Saudi Arabia’s role in this regard? Has it played a role in the selection of Tamam Salam?

Through its affiliated parties and groups and also by using its financial power, Saudi Arabia will certainly attempt to influence Lebanese developments. Lebanon is on the verge of parliamentary elections and we must consider the fact that this country has a parliamentary system, therefore parliamentary elections play a decisive role in choosing the president, the prime minister, and individuals in other sectors of the governmental structure. As a result, the US, Saudi Arabia, and other groups will make efforts to impact this issue. The presence of Tamam Salam has certainly come about with the agreement of both sides and the issue of election laws, which is one of the most important topics of debate between the two movements currently active in the Lebanese political scene, might be resolved with Tamam Salam’s presence, even though this might not please Saad Hariri, Saudi Arabia, and the US. This is due to the fact that they intend for the elections to be based on a law which gives the resistance movement and its allies the least possible share.

How long do you predict Tamam Salam’s government will last?

Due to the fact that the elections are near and that this coalition government is set to face many challenges, it will be in rather fragile conditions and there is the possibility that, if faced with a big crisis, it will not be able to sustain itself and therefore collapse. However, the consensus reached by both sides over Tamam Salam’s selection provides a good opportunity for Lebanon and, bearing in mind the Salam family’s roots in Lebanese history, Hezbollah also has a more positive view of him.

tags: hezbollah march 14 tamam salam lebanon saudi syria march 8

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