Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Talal Arslan’s resignation remembered

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/06/2011

A friend of mine under another post asked me to comment on Talal Arslan’s resignation. Here are my thoughts on that issue, ones I have actually already expressed on facebook:

Minutes after the announcement of the new government, Talal Arslan resigned from the government. This resignation highlights a lot questions surrounding the whole formation process. Who negotiated with whom and on what. Very little “information” was “leaked” to the media during those 5 months that separated the designation of the PM and the announcement of the government. There was a lot of bickering and accusations, but very little information. So one can legitimately wonder why Talal Arslan waited till the announcement of the government to announce his resignation. The timing actually begs many questions. We will look into them before analysing the arguments he used to justify his move.

1. Didn’t Arslan know he was allotted a “state ministry” before the announcement of the government? A state ministry is Lebanon is one that carries no portfolio. In other words, the Minister of State has no ministry working for him/her. Some ministry of states can actually have a “specialized office” that functions as a small ministry (that’s the case of OMSAR, the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform). The only thing this position entitles the designated minister is a vote in the Council of Ministry. Politically, this is quite meaningful because the Council of Ministers is, constitutionally, the official executive power in Lebanon. However, the reality of the executive power lies elsewhere (since Rafic Hariri expanded the Prime Minister’s position, and the Speaker plays a key role within the state administration). So, effectively, the position of a Minister of State carries very little leverage on the practical level (that is for access to state resources and state employment). I personally doubt that Arlsan wasn’t informed of the fact that he wasn’t given a portfolio. The political class has always been disdainful toward the weak, but I don’t think the Prime Minister or Arslan’s allies didn’t inform him of the result of their negotiation. But then, who know…
2. Even if he did know, was there any other way for him to reject this allocation? Arslan heads one of the smallest blocs in parliament, one that he owes entirely to his rival within his community (Jumblatt) and to his allies from other communities (FPM & Amal). This puts him in no position to negotiate with his allies or rival.
3. Why was he allocated a ministry without a portfolio? His political weight doesn’t entitle him to more. This allocation actually reflects his standing within his community and within the Lebanese political class. Unfortunately for him, this position doesn’t offer him any perspective to change his situation and reinforce himself politically.
4. What does the resignation offer him? It “safeguards his honor”. As the heir of the Arslan house, granting him a ministry of state was in a way demeaning. To put things into perspective, we have to remind ourselves that the “Arslan house” is the supposed “traditional” rival of the Jumblatt house, and that Kamal Jumblatt actually neutralized its power base during the 1958 civil war. Let’s also keep in mind that Talal Arslan’s mother is a Jumblatt and Walid Jumblatt’s mother is an Arslan.  .

Saving Face in the most inelegant of ways
Now, let’s first look into how he justified his move. Here’s what Talal Arslan declared upon resigning:

” آسف للتعاطي غير اللائق بما يسمى بوزارات سيادية وغير سيادية وبالتمييز العنصري فلا يمكن ان اوافق بان يُعامل الدروز او الكاثوليك او العلويين او الاقليات بهذا الشكل.”

“I’m sorry about the inappropriate way of dealing with the so-called top ministries and other ministries, and about the ethnic discrimination. I cannot condone the way the Greek-Catholics, the Druzes, the Alawites or the minorities have been treated”.

His argument doesn’t hold. In the allocation of portfolios, Nagib Miqati has actually treated these communities in the exact way Saad Hariri had in 2009, with Fattoush replacing Pharaon, Manjian replacing Ogassapian, Arslan replacing Abou Faour… In both governments, minorities (i.e. Latin and/or Protestants) were not represented, and Alawites have never been represented in any government in Lebanon.
Talal Arslan actually points out a real problem (and challenge) in Lebanese politics, but his real problem with Miqati is that he didn’t give him a portfolio.

Last week, Miqati and Arslan agreed that the seat that Arslan relinquished would remain in the hands of Arslan’s party. Al-Liwa’ reported that the position will probably be filled by Arslan’s brother-in-law, Marwan Kheireddine… This solution is quite an interesting one. It shows the lack of political imagination (and innovation) within our political class. A possible solution would have been to split one the ministries and hand a part of it to Arslan. He could have been awarded the Ministry of Municipalities and Decentralization (that could have FINALLY been detached from the Ministry of Interior), or the Ministry of Emigrants (post that Talal Arslan already had in 1998 and that could have been detached from the ministry of Foreign Affairs, though I doubt that Nabih Berri would have agreed to that). It also confirms the extent to which family ties have become the most secure relationship in contemporary lebanese politics.


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