Beirut–Lebanon’s national unity government collapsed Wednesday after the withdrawal of Hezbollah ministers and allies from the cabinet. The move follows months of disagreement over a United Nations-backed probe into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Ten MPs from the Hezbollah-dominated 8 March coalition announced their resignation at 17:00 local time. Independent Shia MP Adnan Hussein followed suit shortly afterward, causing the 11-member shortfall required for the dissolution of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s 30-strong cabinet.
Energy Minister Jibran Bassil announced the resignations as Hariri held talks with US President Barack Obama in Washington.
“Because of the other party’s inability to surpass American pressures…and in order to make way for a new government, the assembled ministers present their resignations and ask the president [Michel Sleiman] to speedily remedy the situation,” Bassil told reporters.
Adnan, who belonged to Sleiman’s independent cabinet bloc, said the current government had failed to address the needs of the public.
“I declare my resignation from the cabinet in order to allow constitutional institutions to form a new government that meets the ambitions of the Lebanese in terms of national unity and global stability,” Adnan said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.
Lebanon’s administration has been divided for months over the issue of Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) “false witnesses,” which critics say misled investigators and should therefore be referred to the Judicial Council–Lebanon’s highest judicial authority–to stand trial. The Western-backed 14 March coalition, for its part, maintains that those suspected of giving false testimony to STL officials should be dealt with via regular judiciary channels.
It had been hoped that two of Lebanon’s traditional makeweights–Saudi Arabia and Syria–could agree on a formula to avert anticipated civil strife following tribunal indictments. But Christian leader Michel Aoun announced on Tuesday the failure of the Saudi-Syrian initiative, prompting calls for Hariri’s resignation.
The prime minister had strenuously lobbied US officials, along with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, for an international consensus regarding the tribunal.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Wednesday warned that the fall of the Lebanese government could adversely impact regional stability.
“This poses a great danger. Lebanon could face the problems it faced before, and this will affect the countries of the region,” al-Faisal said in a joint press conference with Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.
The elder Hariri was killed on Valentine’s Day, 2005 by an enormous truck bomb in downtown Beirut. The tribunal established to try the assassins is expected to issue indictments against Hezbollah members, although party head Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to “cut off the hand” of anyone targeting the resistance.
The assassination, blamed at the time on Damascus, prompted the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after three decades of military tutelage.
Disagreement over STL indictments and the so-called false witnesses, which the court's detractors say led to the detention of four pro-Syrian generals for four years, has paralyzed Lebanon’s political institutions. The cabinet last met on 15 December, and urgent issues–such as chronic water and electricity shortages–have gone unaddressed for months.
Simon Haddad, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, warned that Wednesday’s cabinet resignations would usher in a period of instability in Lebanon.
“This step was aimed at confronting anticipated tribunal indictments,” he said. “[8 March] is trying to pressure Hariri, and those parties who support him, in order to eradicate the STL. We need to wait and see what Hariri does; whether or not he can form another cabinet, or if he even wants to."
“It also sends a message to the international community that western forces in the country are being toppled. We should see this as a reaction against international interference in Lebanon,” Haddad added.