Why Lebanon's Najib Mikati Resigned

Hezbollah Makes Its Move

Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Davos, 2013. (Denis Balibouse / Courtesy Reuters)

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati surprised very few when he resigned on Friday, causing the technocratic government that he created with Hezbollah’s blessing two years ago to collapse. This final chapter of Mikati’s tenure seemed to be written well before he took the post in January 2011. Mikati, a prominent Sunni politician and millionaire businessman with international contacts, knew very well that Hezbollah, which effectively controls Lebanon’s government, would make life very difficult for him. Nevertheless, he accepted the challenge, perhaps naively believing that he could do something that no politician has been able to do since former prime minister Rafiq Hariri was killed on February 14, 2005: bring stability and normalcy to a country seemingly always on the verge of sectarian strife. In the end, though, he could not.

To fulfill his ambitious plan, Mikati sought to create a moderate center in Lebanese politics that could mediate the ongoing feud between Hezbollah, the party accused of killing Hariri, and Saad Hariri, the son of Rafiq and prime minister between 2009 and 2011. He convinced Michel Suleiman, the serving president, and Walid Jumblatt, the influential Druze leader, to join his coalition. Then, for added credibility, Mikati sought political backing from regional powers, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Even Iran and the United States, which had been fighting a cold war in the Middle East (often through proxies on Lebanese soil), gave their blessings to Mikati’s plan.

For its part, Hezbollah, the dominant party in Lebanon’s politics since Rafiq Hariri’s assassination and Syria’s forced exit shortly afterward, judged that it could afford having Mikati in charge of the cabinet as long as he did not cross any red lines that threatened Hezbollah’s security. To be sure, the Shia party kept putting Mikati in some very uncomfortable positions. First, in 2011, Hezbollah’s leaders rejected calls for Lebanon to support the United Nations’ special tribunal on the assassination of Rafiq

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