When former prime minister Fouad Siniora delivered his speech to the massive crowds at the funeral of Wissam al-Hassan, the assassinated intelligence chief, standing next to him was none other than Tammam Salam.
Last night, Siniora and Salam were side-by-side once again, this time at Saad Hariri’s downtown mansion. The Arab and international signal had been given to begin negotiations on a new prime minister. With that, MP Salam is now the next prime minister in waiting.
Today is the beginning of a new phase in a path that was plotted months ago. Riyadh had to choose one of two names: Salam or Brigadier General Ashraf Rifi, head of the Internal Security Forces. The latter had been asked two months ago, but he nominated Rafik Hariri’s sister and Saida MP Bahia Hariri. She preferred to run for parliament.
In those two months, the situation took a different turn. Rifi was slated for an extension in his position, but fell into the quarrel between Hezbollah and MP Michel Aoun, on one side, and Mikati, on the other.
In the last few days, the Saudis proposed Rifi’s name to its visitors. The last such visitor was MP Walid Jumblatt, who found it difficult to defend a character who is “confrontational” with Hezbollah.
Like they did with Mikati, however, the Saudis wanted to push Jumblatt into a final and decisive position. Then, they put Salam’s name in the negotiation basket.
Rifi was picked by both Hariri and the Saudis for several reasons. His security abilities would be useful to control the situation in Tripoli and Saida. He has good ties with the Arab (read: Saudi) and Western intelligence communities.
Salam is a purely Saudi suggestion. Hariri was unhappy with the choice until the last moment. However, Hariri did not want to give back the clout to someone who had kept a distance from the Future Movement.
But the Saudis spoke and Hariri met the son of former prime minister Saeb Salam. Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan met with Hariri and, all of a sudden, Salam became the opposition candidate. The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon went around Beirut informing all those concerned of Riyadh’s position.
Jumblatt chose the easiest of the two names, Salam, as a candidate for consensus, given first by March 14, before March 8 had announced its position.
When Mikati threatened to resign for the “umpteenth” time, there was no one to stop him this time. He committed a serious error in an appropriate time and situation. He thought he was indispensable; everyone will come back to him or Arab and Western capitals will call for his return. But his political calculations failed.
The capitals demonstrated that their support for the current government was weak. They were primarily concerned with the question of Lebanon’s stability. As Paris told Mikati on the eve of his visit in February 2012, they will receive the Lebanese prime minister, no matter who he is.
This was repeated yesterday. Mikati is a guarantee for Lebanon’s stability only as long as he is head of government. Otherwise, a replacement is ready and all governments will be willing to deal with his successor.
When he resigned, Mikati could not find anyone to support him. Hezbollah and Aoun owed him nothing. Only Jumblatt remained at his side until he was accused of politically burning him.
Mikati, the MP from Tripoli, had come to power in alliance with the Future Movement and then turned against them. Hariri has declared a veto on Mikati as prime minister and as MP in the next elections.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.