Reuters reports: A veteran Christian leader is set to fill Lebanon’s long-vacant presidency in a deal that underlines the ascendancy of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement and the diminished role of Saudi Arabia in the country.
It appears all but certain that Michel Aoun will become president next week under an unlikely proposal tabled by Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri, whose Saudi-backed coalition opposed Hezbollah for years.
Parliament will likely elect Aoun on Oct. 31. This will end one element of a paralyzing political crisis: the 29-month-long presidential vacuum. But it is also creating new tensions that may disrupt the formation of a new government expected to be led by Hariri under a deal with Aoun.
Aoun’s election will also raise questions over Western policy toward Lebanon. Lebanon’s army, guarantor of the country’s internal peace, depends on aid from the United States, which deems Hezbollah a terrorist group.
Hariri’s proposal, unthinkable a few weeks ago, appears to have been forced on him by problems at his Saudi-based construction firm, Saudi Oger, the financial backbone of his political network in Lebanon.
It marks the death throes of the Hariri-led alliance that struggled with Hezbollah for more than a decade, only to see the heavily armed Shi’ite group go from strength to strength in Lebanon and the wider region. [Continue reading…]