Don’t look now, but Lebanon may be about to get a president

Suleiman Frangieh, the guy who may be Lebanon’s next president (Wikimedia | Saroufim1)
Lebanon has been mired in political gridlock for months, under a caretaker government that can’t even properly manage trash collection, but things are starting to look up. Details have been emerging over the past few days about a potential compromise that would, at the very least, give the country its first non-interim president in over a year and a half:

Lebanon’s political crisis has taken a dramatic turn with the possibility that a friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could become president in a power-sharing deal aimed at breathing life back into the paralyzed state.

The idea of Suleiman Franjieh, a childhood friend of Assad, becoming head of state has taken aback many Lebanese, not least because of who tabled it: Saad al-Hariri, a Sunni politician who leads an alliance forged from opposition to Syrian influence in Lebanon. He would become prime minister under the deal.

Truth be told, this is probably the only kind of deal that could break the gridlock, which is as much a product of Lebanon’s competing outside interests as it is of any systemic problem within the country’s political system. Iran, and therefore Hezbollah, can presumably get behind a new Lebanese president who was childhood pals with Assad, while the factions in Lebanon who oppose Assad, and their Gulf supporters, get to put one of their guys in the comparatively more powerful Prime Minister’s office. If Hariri and Franjieh can work effectively together, then Lebanon’s government might actually be able to function once more. Whether there is a deal, and the extent to which a deal might turn Lebanon’s political fortunes around, depends on whether Hariri and Franjieh can bring their respective factions along with them into a unity government, as opposed to splintering them.

Lebanon’s need for political reconciliation has only gotten more critical over the past month. Where the country’s biggest problems earlier this year were dealing with its trash crisis and figuring out how to accommodate all of those refugees from Syria, the Beirut bombing in mid-November (which may have provided the push to get Lebanon’s political factions talking to each other again) raises the possibility that Lebanon is now in ISIS’s cross-hairs. Beirut has also been trying to negotiate with Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS for the release of several of its soldiers who were captured by those two groups in the northern Lebanese city of Arsal in August 2014. Earlier today they finally made a prisoner swap with Nusra, in a deal that was brokered by Qatar, but there are still nine Lebanese soldiers being held by ISIS and it’s unclear if or when talks over their release might resume.

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