|Saad al-Hariri, the son of slain prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, led a coalition government for slightly more than a year before a dispute over the investigation of his father's death led to its collapse [EPA]
Lebanon's opposition bloc, a cross-party, multi-sect alliance known as the March 8 coalition, resigned from the cabinet on Wednesday following disagreement over how to respond to the impending result of an international investigation into the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, the father of current prime minister Saad al-Hariri.
Though it had been rumoured that the United Nations-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon was looking to implicate Syria in Rafiq al-Hariri's killing, the tribunal is now reportedly preparing to indict senior members of Hezbollah, the armed Shia nationalist movement that leads the March 8 coalition but is also considered a terrorist organisation by Egypt, Israel, and some Western countries, including the United States.
Lebanon has long been a theatre influenced by outside actors, and the latest crisis was preceded by a reported breakdown in negotiations between Syria and Saudi Arabia to ensure continued power sharing between their respective clients: Hezbollah and Hariri.
In the 24 hours following the collapse, government officials, analysts, and media outlets around the world have begun to offer their opinion over what should or could happen next.
|Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state
"We view what happened today as a transparent effort by those forces inside Lebanon, as well as interests outside Lebanon, to subvert justice and undermine Lebanon’s stability and progress," Clinton said during a news conference at the Forum for the Future in Doha, Qatar. "We believe that the work of the special tribunal must go forward so justice can be served and impunity ended."
|Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabian foreign minister
"The resignations will be dangerous, as they will cause clashes once again," Faisal told a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara. "Thus, we hope these resignations will not take place. They have the potential to cause everything built so far to collapse." He also warned of repercussions around the region.
|Michael Young, Daily Star, Lebanese newspaper
"[Syrian President Bashir al-] Assad is smarting from the American derailing of Syrian-Saudi talks. This obliged him to instruct his friends in Beirut to tighten the screws on Hariri. But how far will the Syrian president go, and how far can he go?
"Assad does not want to be blamed by Washington and Paris for whatever goes wrong in Lebanon, and he grasps that any confrontation between the Lebanese might only reinforce Hezbollah, and more importantly Iran, at Syria's expense.
"Neither Hezbollah nor Syria is pleased with what is going on. For the party, all the contentious means of crippling the tribunal have grave shortcomings. A serious political or security escalation would only harden discord at a moment when Hezbollah's primary goal is to show that Lebanon is united in its rejection of the special tribunal.
"As for Assad, if he pushes too hard, he may lose for good the Lebanese Sunni card, which he has worked for years to regain. Hariri alone can issue Hezbollah with a certificate of innocence, and if the prime minister decides to sit the coming period out of office, it is difficult to see how any opposition-led government would function properly."
|Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, Israeli newspaper
"Hezbollah's collective resignation yesterday was intended to show Syria the limitations of its influence on the group and to tell Damascus that if it wanted to show Washington it can preserve stability in Lebanon, Hezbollah and Iran will have the last word.
"Nasrallah, who is not pleased with the strengthening ties between Syria and Hariri and fears they will gnaw at his power, now wants to reshuffle the cabinet, have a new prime minister appointed and split up the coalition. This will increase Hezbollah's strength and could thwart Syria's ability to form a political bloc that would counterbalance the group."
|Elliot Abrams, former George W Bush security and democracy-promotion adviser
"Hezbollah has been holding the entire country hostage while arming itself to the teeth with the help of Syria and Iran. Today’s Hezbollah resignation from the government, where it formally held minority status, is a threat to every Lebanese.
"If Hariri complies with Hezbollah's demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family's, and his country's honour. It appears that Hariri won't do it, which is both a moral and a politically intelligent decision. Instead he and his country are left floating, trying to avoid violence that may only benefit Hezbollah and watching Saudi and Syrian mediation whose outcome for Lebanese sovereignty is likely to be tragic."
|Elias Muhanna, Harvard University PhD candidate, writer, and blogger
"The current crisis has its roots in Hezbollah and [the Amal party's] cabinet walkout of late 2006, which led to over a year and a half of government paralysis, a huge downtown sit-in and protest, escalating street violence, the May 7 clashes, and, eventually, the Doha Agreement. The opposition's principal demand at that stage was greater representation in cabinet - the so-called blocking third - so as to be able to meaningfully block legislation proposed by Hariri's majority March 14 coalition. More fundamentally, the opposition was seeking a "nuclear option": the ability to bring down the government in precisely this kind of situation, whereby Saad al-Hariri and his allies would remain committed to supporting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon all the way until the release of indictments.
If the opposition resigns ... they will have finally exercised the option that they fought to gain between 2006 and 2008."
|Joshua Landis, Center for Middle East Studies, Oklahoma University
"The new show down caused by the impending indictments of the International Tribunal will return Lebanon to paralysis not war. Hezbollah has made it clear that it does not want war. It will not carry out a 'coup,' as some have claimed. But it will bring government to a stand still.
The highest price will be paid by Lebanon's wealthy communities. They have the most to lose by a slow down in investment, the collapse of the stock market, and decline in economic growth.
And to think that Lebanon was growing at eight per cent last year. Now we are sure to see more immobility, sectarian strife, and economic stagnation in the Middle East."
Graeme Bannerman, Middle East Institute, Washington DC
"Probably no one in the world wants the tribunal more than Hariri, but he has a whole series of other considerations. He can't govern without consensus," Bannerman told the AFP news agency. In backing the tribunal, the United States has "an alternative agenda, which is to weaken Hezbollah and therefore Syria and Iran. It doesn't take into consideration how the Lebanese political system works."
"I think we are an essential part of Hariri's problem. I think we are making his life more difficult rather than easier."
Eric Mottu, International Monetary Fund
Political tension has already hurt the economy and Hezbollah’s walkout "will further erode confidence and may heighten the risk of a further slowdown," Mottu, the IMF representative in Beirut, told the Bloomberg news agency. "For growth, investment, consumption and tourism it could be a risk."
Amr Moussa, Arab League chief
Only a unity government can prevent civil war following the government's collapse, Moussa said. He called on Lebanese leaders to leave the doors of dialogue open and form a "national accord" in keeping with Lebanon's "supreme interest".
|William Hague, UK foreign secretary
Hezbollah's withdrawal was "extremely serious" and could have "grave implications" for stability across the Middle East, Hague said.
The United Kingdom "strongly condemns" ongoing attempts to undermine the tribunal "which must be allowed to do its work without any obstacle," he said. "Justice must take its course and there should be an end to impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies