I have tried to resist viewing the current stalemate in Lebanon’s cabinet formation as the product of Syrian meddling. After all, there are more than enough local obstacles in Lebanon for Syria to bother getting its hands dirty. Some of these obstacles include:
- Michel Aoun’s struggle with President Sleiman over cabinet shares;
- Michel Aoun’s struggle with PM-designate Najib Miqati over cabinet shares;
- Michel Aoun’s struggle with Nabih Berri over cabinet shares;
- Michel Aoun’s struggle with Jumblatt over cabinet shares;
- You get the idea…
The longer this stalemate continues, however, the more I begin to suspect a Syrian dimension to Aoun’s stalling tactics. When virtually every other member of the March 8 coalition has expressed their support for Najib Miqati and their satisfaction with his efforts to form a cabinet, Aoun is the only one who has consistently put up a fight and threatened to withdraw his support for Miqati’s candidacy (besides, of course, Wi’am Wahhab…)
The question is: why would Syria have an interest in preventing the formation of a government by its own allies in Beirut? The past four months have made Hizbullah, Amal, and the FPM look completely hapless. The only conceivable reason for putting the brakes on would be to spare a “Hizbullah-led” government from being painted as an accomplice to Syria’s crackdown on its protesters.
Let’s imagine that Miqati succeeds in forming the government tomorrow, and let’s also imagine that the protests in Syria escalate over the next several weeks to the point where the regime has to launch a major security operation, killing hundreds more people and sending thousands of refugees (including many opposition activists) streaming across the border. If a March 8 government in Lebanon denies asylum to the Syrian opposition (which is a safe bet), Hizbullah and its allies would become easy targets for March 14th’s media outlets. Saad Hariri and co. would not miss a chance to paint the Lebanese government as an extension of the Assad regime, and this could easily galvanize enormous protests in Lebanon in support of the Syrian people.
That would be a publicity nightmare for Damascus and its Lebanese allies, all of whom came out in strong support of the populist movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain. So perhaps the current state of affairs does indeed have foreign fingerprints all over it. If the cabinet is formed the day after Bashar al-Assad declares victory over the Syrian opposition, we may know for sure…