Lebanon, Syria

The Number One Sunni in Lebanon

Shortly after Najib Miqati became prime minister of Lebanon early last year, he went on Marcel Ghanem’s venerable political talk show, Kalam el-Nas.

Marcel asked him to respond to his opponents’ critique that he was not “Sunni enough” to assume the post from which Saad Hariri had been unceremoniously ejected by Hizbullah and its allies. Miqati responded with a hysterical tirade, which you can watch here. (Translation is below)…

Mikati: “I don’t accept anyone to question my Sunnism. If there’s a Sunni in Lebanon, it’s me. I won’t accept it! And those who want to hand out certificates (of Sunnism) can go do it on their own. I’m Sunni in belief, Sunni in practice, Sunni in politics, and I’m the number one defender of the Sunnis in Lebanon. If you want to talk about Sunnis, I’m the one with the highest number of Sunni votes. In the ballot boxes of Tripoli, 87% of the Sunnis voted for Najib Miqati, which has never happened in the history of elections in Lebanon. So [whoever is questioning my Sunnism] can get lost, with all my respect for the muftis and who else is concerned with this issue. I’m the Number One Sunni in Lebanon!”

Marcel Ghanem: Great. Moving on…

Today, the Sunni credentials of many of Lebanon’s leaders, including Messrs. Miqati and Hariri, are being challenged again. The situation in Tripoli has consumed the news, and I have nothing to add to the many good commentaries by Maya Mikdashi, Emile Hokayem, Karl Sharro, Michael Young, Mustapha Hamaoui, and others.

Except for this one thing: Before last week, I would have been surprised if 1% of the many Lebanese political junkies who read this blog could tell me who Shadi al-Mawlawi or Ahmad Abd al-Wahed were. Today, the identities of these men and the tension surrounding the former’s imprisonment and the latter’s death are causing a major headache for the sitting government.

The Future Movement has seized on these events to make a typically hamfisted play, pressuring Miqati to resign. I don’t see that succeeding unless the situation in Tripoli becomes far worse. And even in such a case, I continue to believe that Hariri has no desire to return to the limelight so soon. He is biding his time abroad not because of security threats but because the position of the Lebanese Prime Minister — the Number One Sunni in Lebanon — is precisely where he doesn’t want to be right now.

There will be a lot of bluster in the press for a few days, but behind the scenes, Lebanon’s political establishment will likely try to find a way to make its Tripoli problem go away. The truth is that no one is the Number One Sunni in Lebanon, which means that no one is ideally positioned to gain any political traction from the situation in the North.

Update: Have a look at Mitch Prothero’s piece for FP, which makes a similar point…

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