Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Suleiman & Hariri (3): contours of a cohabitation

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/07/2009

libertyI couldn’t find a better picture to illustrate the oddness of the Hariri/Suleiman couple. Which one do you think will be playing Laurel, and which one will be playing Hardy? I’m not too sure about this. Both men are political outsiders. They were hurled to office, unprepared. So they are likely to make some rather comical mistakes. And some mistakes might even be spun to serve them (remember Saad’s very unlebanese زي ما هي “Zay ma hya” in 2005?). But just like everything opposed Laurel to Hardy (and vice versa), the same applies to our odd couple. On a personal level, the former playboy/businessman seems more flexible, more humorous, more apt to learn than the former military chief. On a political level, the Prime Minister holds all the cards, and the president none!

Having seen how different the unlikely president and the unexpected heir are, having glimpsed at how unbalanced their power sharing is, we can start imagining how their cohabitation is likely to be. Let us look at three variables/factors:

– Cabinet weight
– Communal representation
– Allotment of cross-communal shares in Government
– Political competence
– Political potency

Interested in more?

  • Cabinet weightHariri will undoubtedly have the highest share of portfolios (a tradition started by his father in 1992 and increased exponentially since 2005). Suleiman is vying for the second share. He is expecting a sharp increase from 3 ministers in a government of 30 (10%), up to 7 ministers in a smaller government (at least 23%). With so many MPs, he seems to be trying to achieve two goals:
    • become the Arbitrator between the two parliamentary coalitions (Mars XIV® and Mars 8 + FPM).
    • have enough sway to implement reforms. As Suleiman cannot count on a parliamentary group, he needs a large and faithful group of Ministers so as to bargain his support for some policies with his program of institutional reforms.
  • Communal representation. During the Syrian mandate, three Zu’ama were granted political dominance over their community and its representation in Parliament and the Government: Nabih Berri, Rafic Hariri and Walid Joumblatt. This also meant that they were given a share of public ressources and that they controlled the employment of their coreligionists in public administrations (and backed their employment in the private sector too). The end of Syrian rule didn’t change that system.
    • For Christians, things were (and still are) more complicated. The Syrian authorities didn’t grant any Christian politician dominance over his community. And the Christian share within public administrations and state ressources was shrinking. Nevertheless, some Christian politicians were granted a small portion of state ressources. And some power was granted to them. It was distributed between the President (hence the “presidential share”), “independent” Christian clients (Hobeika, Fattouch, Fares…) and local Christian patrons (Skaff, Frangieh, Murr…). Following the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, Christians politicians gradually recovered a larger portion of power. But their situation remains significantly weaker than their muslim counterparts. This situation is not about to change in the next government. The Doha agreement’s formula allocating a third of governmental seats to Christians leaders is very likely going to remain. Neither the President, nor Hariri lead March XIV® want to change that (because it will certainly benefit Aoun’s FPM).
  • Allotment of cross-communal shares in Government. Although no one is actually discussing it in public, this issue seems to be one of the most debated one in the formation of the new government. Sleiman seems to want to follow Hariri’s example in having a cross-communal share (حصة) in government. This is a complete break from the practice established at the onset of the Syrian Mandate. At that time, three large cross-communal shares were handed over to Rafik Hariri, Nabih Berri and Walid Joumblat.  This system allowed the Muslim Zu’ama to increase or double their weight in government (and Parliament), and solved the problem of Christian representation in government (most Christian parties that truly represented the Christians were hostile to Syria).
    • This system changed at the end of the Syrian Mandate when anti-Syrian Christian parties were allowed back into the political game. Berri was the first to loose his cross-communal allotment (first Siniora cabinet, 2005), followed by Joumblatt (second Siniora cabinet, 2008). In fact, Hariri  was the only one to retain a cross-communal share, while hanging on to his position of dominance within his community and its political representation (just like Joumblatt and Berri). In the incumbent government, Hariri has the largest share (5 affiliated Ministers + 4 allied politicians): all the Sunni ministers are either affiliated to his party or closely allied to it. Moreover, Hariri is the only Za’im who appointed clients and supporters from other communities: Shiite, Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Greek-Catholic. On the other hand, Suleiman had appointed only three Ministers, non of which were parliamentarians, and all three were Christian. This automatically limited  his political stature in Lebanese affairs. This is about to change in the coming government. But President Michel Suleiman has to fight two strong converging dynamics that are working to prevent him from transforming his share into a cross-communal one :
      • the Quadripartite Oligarchy is against it because it might cost some seats in the coming government and it will certainly be a blow to each pillar’s symbolic dominance over its community.
      • March XIV is against it because they are trying to pit him against the FPM. This is only possible if the rules of the game remain the same, and Michel Aoun and Michel Suleiman are encouraged to squabble over Christian representation.
  • Political competence. By this notion, I mean the quality of a politician’s political counseling and his potential for political initiative. Hariri is undoubtedly the one who has the largest and most competent group of political experts. But this brings about conflicts of interpretation that are grounded in his very complex identity and interests: world economical player, communal leader, prime minister with cross-communal interests and ambitions. Suleiman doesn’t suffer from the same conflicts of interests, this should allow him to have a clearer and more coherent policy. However, he does not have the same ressources as Hariri for quality counseling, not only personal, but equally institutional. Just compare the administration of the Serail to that of the Presidential office. Up to now, the Presidency hasn’t shown any sign of “political intelligence”, it has simply rehashed old political slogans and hasn’t shown a clear position on the national scene.
  • Political potency. Now this is a very complicated issue because it has as much to do with formal rules as it has with informal (and illegal) practices. Prime Minister Hariri can rely on his political weight in government (the larges share), in state institutions (control over the Central Bank and the Ministry of finance), in private sector (banks, business and media), in regional politics (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait), and international politics (the US and France). President Suleiman doesn’t have any of these powers. Nevertheless, he can benefit from the limited “christian credentials” of March XIV to take a leading role in the Cabinet reunions (that he heads when present), and by giving or withholding his signature. He obviously will have more power if the quadripartite oligarchy breaks up, but this is not likely to happen (it didn’t happen even during the extreme polarisation that split it from 2005 to 2009).

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