Lebanon’s parliament on Tuesday voted 68-60 in favor of handing the reins of the government over to billionaire businessman Najib Mikati, who was nominated for the position of prime minister by Hizballah and its allies in the plenum.
Hizballah brought down the government of Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri earlier this month after he rejected the group’s demand that Lebanon stop cooperating with the international investigation into the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah is widely expected to be named the chief suspect in the murder.
In his victor speech, Mikati declared himself the “consensus candidate,” and Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah insisted Mikati is not a representative of his group.
“The resulting new government is not, in any way, a Hizballah-government. I wish it was,” stated Nasrallah. “Anyone who says so aids in the incitement against Hizballah coming primarily from the United States and Israel.”
But the Lebanese people knew better, and erupted into widespread street riots on Tuesday to protest the rising power of Hizballah. The demonstrations were largest, and most violent, in Sunni Muslim areas, where locals fumed about their country slipping further under the thumb of the Shiite Hizballah and its Shiite masters in Iran.
Some have argued that Mikati could not possibly help Hizballah and the Shiites gain power, as he himself is Sunni. However, Mikati is known to be very close to the Syrian regime, which despite not being Shiite is also an ally and sponsor of Hizballah. And, of course, Mikati was nominated by Hizballah.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated on Tuesday that Lebanese-US ties will be greatly damaged if Hizballah controls the government in Beirut, and State Department spokesman PJ Crowley threatened that American financial aid to Lebanon could cease.
But many in Israel expected that the ruse of nominating a Sunni Muslim who is also an international businessman was probably enough to give Washington a way out of actually carrying through on its threats.