The political scene in Lebanon, and rhetoric in the country’s media, is full of expressions that presage what is desired for Lebanon during this phase of its history.
These days, when political leaders and top officials, and even those occupying lower-level positions, make statements or author articles, practically every other sentence or two contains terms such as the following: “delay the elections,” “extend Parliament’s mandate,” “suspend the election law,” “halt” or abolish a given article of legislation,” “bury” or “revive” a given law, or “freeze” action on a law, or “prolong” or “obstruct” the formation of a Cabinet, or “go slow” in drafting a new election law, or “buy time.” The dictionary has run out of synonyms for such words and phrases, which all express nothing other than this: an attempt to freeze, or do away with, political life in Lebanon.
If a statistics firm wanted to count the number of times these words are used in the press, or in news bulletins, it would need a specialized computer program or an extremely long period of time in order to identify all of the various instances.
The popularity of these words and expressions, including the insistence on holding the elections “on time,” indicates the deterioration of the standards of political life. In recent days, members of parliamentary blocs have wasted time in verbal sparring matches; they have engaged in a silly debate over the issue of suspending articles of the current election law, under weak pretexts. Those who do not want the elections to be postponed have also engaged in these verbal exploits, just like those who want them to be delayed. It has left all sides equal, with no exceptions, as they descend into the mud of obstructing political life, amid unending flights of sophistry.
However, this descent, despite the silliness of the vocabulary being used in a domestic Lebanese debate, does serve as an indicator of an essentially-important development. The scion of a political family of long standing, Tammam Salam, has been named prime minister-designate and tasked with forming a government, a move that goes beyond the public’s nostalgia for traditional political families with playing a role. These families have never disappeared, even though the influence of some of them has waned for a time, and then returned. Instead, the development indicates the “suspension” of Lebanese political life, which was subject to local and historic balances of power, criteria and laws, took place under the pressure of Syria’s tutelage over Lebanon, followed by Syria's partnership with Iran, to the benefit of a domestic political formula that served specific regional policy orientations.
The late Prime Minister Saeb Salam was driven out of Lebanon when a rocket hit the wall of his home in the heart of the capital. It was one of the aspects of suspending this political formula, in the favor of the one that Damascus has sought for 40 years, in order to tame Lebanon’s political class. The return of Salam’s son to the seat of his father serves as notice that the iron grip of the Syrians, followed by the Syrians and the Iranians, over Lebanese decision-making has begun to weaken due to the uprising in Syria and the Arab Spring, despite negative sides of these two developments.
The Lebanese domestic political formula used to be blocked under the cover of loud, internationalist slogans such as confronting imperialism and American-Israeli hegemony. However, the relaxing of this grip has lifted the veil on the domestic political arena, and the vocabulary that has dominated the events of recent days and weeks, such as “extending” Parliament or “suspending” the articles of the election law, or freezing this and postponing that, is now being used openly, with the goal of “blocking” the possibility of seeing Lebanese political life return to its traditional and independent laws and criteria. The overarching slogans are no longer sufficient to cover the takeover of the political game in Lebanon, while the use of force and oppression is no longer able to bring things under control.
The political team that benefited from the freezing of this game for decades, particularly Hezbollah, has lost power and can only now be in harmony with the moment of transformation represented by the Sunni community’s unanimity in supporting Salam for the prime minister’s post. This time, it cannot use force to compel Druze leader Walid Jumblatt to go against this consensus, as it did in 2011. The “freezing” of this moment - designating a rational, moderate and calm person as prime minister, while preventing the return of the domestic rules of the game to block Salam’s formation of a government to hold elections - will waste the opportunity to adapt to changes in the region and in Syria in particular, and its repercussions in Lebanon. It has become difficult, if not impossible, to prevent this development.
If Hezbollah and its allies have justified their support for Salam as a move to keep Hariri and members of the Future Movement away from the prime minister’s post, then this serves as another reason for them to cease the policy of freezing the rules of the Lebanese domestic political game. The other side of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s stance, in support of Salam, involves a show of flexibility and moderation and realism in dealing with this game. It is time for Hezbollah to review the implications of all of this, to begin the process of accommodating itself to the changes. It is a new phase in Lebanon, and it might take some time to unfold. However, it marks the beginning of the end of “suspending” the rules of the domestic game.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.