Incoming Labor Minister Selim Jreissati should be applauded for his lynx-like perception and his clear understanding of the challenges facing his country. “Efforts need to be made for the sake of stability,” said the judge shortly after his appointment, adding that stability was, “more important than anything else.” Stunning! Where would we be without the wisdom of Jreissati and his ilk?
But seriously, Jreissati has a point. The Hezbollah-dominated cabinet he joins is the embodiment of instability. Not because it is in danger of being toppled by an armed militia – Jreissati’s allies in Hezbollah have a monopoly on that particular brand of persuasion – but because since it took control of the country in January 2011, it has shown that it has neither the inclination nor, it seems, the ability to meet the demands of the Lebanese people.
“Stability” will never be achieved by arguing which government has spent more, merely to score political points while the country sinks even deeper into a morass of economic decrepitude. Say what you want about March 14, about its lack of focus and its failure to build on the gains of those heady days in the Spring of 2005, but at least if the bloc had been given a chance it would have attempted to make good on the promises of the Independence Intifada. But political assassinations, war with Israel, an illegal 18-month sit-in by the opposition in the heart of Beirut and an attempted coup all put an end to that.
Enter March 8 and in particular the potent alliance of Hezbollah and Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, an iron fist inside a velvet glove if ever there was one. Yet sadly, staying with the pugilist metaphor, the government is punching below its weight as (the unfortunate) Najib Mikati has discovered to his cost. The government has spent the last year more preoccupied with digging up alleged past abuses and treading political water with one eye on events in Syria than with Lebanon’s pressing priorities.
Stability does not come about by blindly supporting an embattled Syrian regime. The old concepts of brotherly relations and the proud struggle against Israel ring hollow as, for the second time in 30 years, a member of the Assad family has besieged a Syrian city and punished insolence with a massacre. As the majority of Lebanese – yes we are sure it is the majority of Lebanese – are appalled by the death and destruction visited upon the people of Homs and other towns across the country, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to endorse a government created to do Damascus’ bidding and propped up by the arms of Hezbollah.
Stability will never happen as long as Jreissati’s allies in Hezbollah insist that they have a divine right to their weapons. Stability cannot exist when a religious political party is stronger than the national army in a country that is a sectarian tinderbox. Jreissati joins the government at a time when the region is at its most volatile in decades. Hezbollah’s contentious weapons must no longer be seen through the prism of noble Resistance. Rather, given the party’s close ties to both Iran and Syria – the latter on the edge of civil war, the former goading the West into confrontation – they are a national liability.
While it remains to be seen how much stability Jreissati brings to government, his position on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the international court created to bring to justice those responsible for the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others, is a matter of concern.
In November 2010, Jreissati and two other Lebanese lawyers met the eight lawyers tasked defending the four Hezbollah members indicted in the Hariri case and urged them not to recognize or cooperate with the court. One month later, Jreissati and Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad gave a presentation during which he outlined the seven legal reasons why the STL should be thrown out. Considering Mikati has committed to the court, Jreissati’s presence might not be conducive to the stability he is calling for.