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Homepage > Publication Type > Media Releases > Lebanon’s Politics: The Sunni Community and Hariri’s Future Current

Lebanon’s Politics: The Sunni Community and Hariri’s Future Current

Beirut/Brussels  |   26 May 2010

To succeed, Prime Minister Saad Hariri faces the challenge of moving Lebanon from the logic of sectarian mobilisation and confrontation in which it has been embroiled. Much will depend on others but his role as head of a national unity government makes him central.

Lebanon’s Politics: The Sunni Community and Hariri’s Future Current , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the momentous changes that have affected Lebanon’s Sunni community, in terms of both its internal organisation and its relations to others. It describes the impact of the 2005 assassination of Saad’s father, Rafic, which many blamed on Damascus and which unleashed a wave of popular anger that propelled his heir to power and defined much of his subsequent policies. 2009 marked another watershed, when Saad opted for a consensus-based government on the tails of his parliamentary electoral victory. Today, he finds himself in a new, challenging position, leading a national unity government that embodies a precarious balance of forces within Lebanon and the region.

“Hariri’s electoral success reflected the almost unchallenged support he enjoys from Lebanon’s Sunni community”, says Sahar al-Atrache, Crisis Group’s Beirut-based Analyst. “But his success as prime minister of a national unity government depends on consensus. This will require reversing the very sectarian mobilisation that brought him to power and pursuing normalisation with his former adversaries”.

Although this may be the price to pay for stability, large segments of Saad’s constituency believe they already have conceded too much. In particular, they are loath to acquiesce in Hizbollah’s continued armed status and Syria’s regained influence and could resist the prime minister’s moves lest they produce tangible benefits.

A critical challenge will be to restructure bilateral relations with Damascus and initiate a process whereby both Hizbollah and the Future Current take steps to rebuild trust. These efforts could be severely tested if, as many speculate, the international tribunal looking into Rafic Hariri’s murder eventually implicates Syria or its allies, both of whom describe the judicial process as politicised.

Changes on the Sunni scene also are needed. As prime minister, Saad no longer can afford to play on collective communal emotions. Instead, he should further distance himself from confessional and clientelist politics, seek to transform the Future Current into a more institutionalised party and better regulate a religious field that, in recent years, has become less disciplined, more chaotic and thus more prone to fuel militant sentiment.

“Competition from Sunni rivals and loss of hegemonic control almost certainly will be one consequence”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director. “But this is the best way to lessen confessional tensions and prevent sectarian backsliding. It also would be a way for Saad to honour the most promising elements of his father’s legacy”.

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