Lebanon’s Fragile Stability at Risk Following Government Collapse

Lebanon’s government collapsed on Friday following the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his party. Political instability within the already volatile country risks being further exacerbated by the on-going turmoil in neighboring Syria.

Originally a telecommunications entrepreneur, Mikati is one of the world’s richest politicians. In 2012, Forbes estimated his fortune at $3 billion. Announcing his resignation, Mikati called for the formation of a national unity government and expressed hopes that the country’s major political blocs would “take responsibility and come together to bring Lebanon out of the unknown”.

His resignation follows the failure of Lebanon’s parliament to agree on a new electoral law. Disputes over the extension of General Ashraf Rifi’s term as Director-General of interior security caused further tensions within the government.

Mikati was appointed Prime Minister for a second time in 2011 after Hezbollah brought down Saad Al-Hariri’s unity government. The spill-over of Syria’s crisis into Lebanon put further strains on Mikati’s relations with Hezbollah, which is a close ally of Bashar Al Assad. Mikati, a Sunni Muslim, encouraged a neutral stance within Lebanon’s parliament over the Syrian crisis throughout his premiership.

“The conflict in Syria is becoming an existential threat to Lebanon, and strong international solidarity is required to support the country,” UN High Commissioner Antonio Guterres informed the US Senate last week. “Apart from the obvious impact this has in a complex political situation, it has also put enormous pressure on available resources, in particular accommodation, health and education infrastructure,” he stated.

Alarming figures released by the UN Higher Refugees Council on Sunday revealed that the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has reached over 375,000, with a weekly rise of about 18,000. Lebanon’s population has grown by 10 percent since the beginning of the neighboring civil war, and this influx has only served to aggravate existing Sectarian tensions within Lebanon. Clashes have erupted between Syrian rebels and Lebanese soldiers in border villages, and recent Sectarian kidnappings across northern Lebanon have also been linked to Syria’s crisis.

Paul Salem, Director of Carnegie Middle East Center, a global think-tank based in Lebanon, has warned that at worst the government’s resignation “might herald a serious entry of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon, a showdown between the country’s factions, and challenges to its basic constitutional order” if quick action is not taken to establish a new government.

“Lebanon’s leaders and foreign friends should recognize the depth of the peril and work to find a way forward to form a new government, appoint a new, effective head of the internal security forces, and hold fresh parliamentary elections,” stressed Salem in a recent article. “Not only is Lebanon facing an immediate future without an empowered government and head of internal security, but soon without a legitimate parliament as well.”