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Lebanese PM-Designate Steps Down, Political Uncertainty Looms

By Jessica Desvarieux
11 September 2009

Lebanon's prime minister-designate Saad Hariri has announced Thursday he is stepping down and calling it quits after more than 10 weeks of fruitless attempts to form a coalition government. This decision will likely further complicate Lebanon's political situation.

In front of a group of reporters, Lebanon's prime minister-designate Saad Hariri announced he will step down.

"I am committed to forming a government of national unity, but there are too many obstacles," he said. "So, I announce to all Lebanese that I have submitted to his highness the president my apologies."

Mr. Hariri's inability to form a unified government led him to call it quits. On September 7 he submitted his lineup for the Cabinet but it was quickly rejected by opposition from Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah.

Thirty-nine-year-old Mr. Hariri says he faced "impossible conditions" in selecting a Cabinet lineup.

However, Durham University's Anoush Ehteshami says it is possible that Hariri will be reappointed, under different circumstances.

"Were he to return, then the expectation is that he's managed to secure a consensus of sorts, at least to get the government formed and let it get on with its daily business," said Ehteshami.

In the June 7 parliamentary elections, Mr. Hariri's coalition won 71 of 128 parliament seats, while Hezbollah and its allies took 57.

A month later a Lebanese power-sharing system was formed to divide power under religious lines. The president would have to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the Parliament speaker a Shi'ite.

But, given the recent rousing debate over Cabinet appointments, Ehteshami says Mr. Hariri's resignation means further political uncertainty - not just for Lebanon but for the entire region.

"The reality is that Hariri's resignation will mean further instability for Lebanon, will make Israel very nervous, [and] will make Hariri's other Arab allies - in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, in Jordan - uncomfortable. And this will give comfort to Iran and Syria, who may interpret this as a weakness," he said.

Weakness that Ehteshami says might lead Lebanon into another period of political turmoil.

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