Tammam Salam

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You are Tammam Salam, Lebanese Future Party Leader

BIOGRAPHY You are a native of Beirut, born in 1945 into a very prominent political family. Your grandfather served as a deputy in the parliament during the era of Ottoman control, while your father, Saeb, served as Lebanon’s Prime Minister on six different occasions between 1952 and 1973. Your mother is Syrian, and you still have family ties there. Your family name and your mother’s heritage are both major assets for you, and have resulted in your being seen as palatable both to the Shi’a, pro-Syrian government March 8th Coalition led by Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah movement, and to the Sunni, pro Syrian opposition March 14th Coalition, led by the Saudi-backed former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

For many years, you headed the Makassed Foundation, a philanthropic and social services organization that was started by your father. It is important to understand that many such organizations exist in Lebanon, providing social support to specific communities in Lebanon, and filling a role that the Lebanese government struggled to carry out. Like Hezbollah in the Shi’a community, Makassed provided health and human service assistance to Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims, and also incorporated a militia. You fully entered politics in the late 1990’s, allied with Saad Hariri’s father Rafik, who served as the Prime Minister of Lebanon, and whose assassination in 2005 (an assassination widely felt to have been carried out by agents supported by Syria) led to the sharpening of the Sunni/Shia divide in Lebanon, and to a dramatic reduction in Syria’s presence there. More recently, you’ve served in parliament without affiliation to any of the major parties or political blocs, and this independence led to your being chosen to succeed Najib Miqati as Prime Minister in 2013. At various times, you’ve allied yourself more closely with one, then another of the major political blocs, and even with your history of opposing Syrian involvement in Lebanon and your ties to the (Sunni) Hariri family, you were seen by Hezbollah and the Shi’a parties as an acceptable choice for Prime Minister (Lebanese law states that the Prime Minister must be a Sunni).

YOUR PRIME MINISTERSHIP

The story of your ascendance to the Prime Ministership tells us a lot about the complex political situation in Lebanon. Your predecessor, Najib Miqati, was more overtly linked to the Hezbollah Coalition than you are. Nevertheless, he was unable to guide to a satisfactory conclusion negotiations over whether Hezbollah or the March 14th Coalition would get control over the influential Ministry of Energy, and he ultimately resigned in frustration in March 2013. You were identified as the logical successor within days, and both the primarily Sunni March 14th Coalition and the largely Shi’a March 8th/Hezbollah Coalition supported your candidacy, and you were offered the job. Yet you didn’t actually take office as Prime Minister until February 2014…why not?

The simple fact was that your country was so torn by internal dissent rooted in the socio-economic, political and military repercussions of the Syrian Civil War that you could not get the political traction to move ahead with forming a government. In fact, it wasn’t until outside powers like Saudi Arabia intervened and pushed for a national agreement, worried that the delicate political balance in Lebanon could collapse under the weight of the tensions fueled by events in Syria. Hezbollah backed off of its resistance to your installation as well, perhaps hoping to enhance their reputation, a reputation that has been damaged by its support for the Assad regime, whose brutal tactics in the Syrian Civil War were also creating havoc in Lebanon, causing a flood of immigrants that threatened the Lebanese economy, as well as dramatically increasing social and political tensions. It was fortunate that the agreement took hold, as only weeks later your country found itself without a president, with the end of Michel Suleiman’s term in May 2014. As of July 2014, the parliament had been unable to agree on a successor to Suleiman, and made you acting president as well as Prime Minister. In one sense, it could be said that you have gained enormously from the political crisis in Lebanon, but no one with any sense of the tempestuous political scene in your country would envy your position, even though it is a prestigious one, in the eye of the storm.

With your family’s political history, and your relative success at building relationships with both sides of the political divide, you are as well equipped as anyone to begin the process of building a stable government, but that is not saying very much—the odds are against you. Your success as Prime Minister will rely on your ability to engage both Hezbollah and the March 14th Coalition, without alienating those supporters within Lebanon and beyond who brought you to power, and this will be no easy task. The sections that follow will explain the different political influences within Lebanon and how they relate to you.

The Lebanese Electoral System

The country of Lebanon has one of the most interesting electoral systems in the world. Seats within parliament are assigned proportionally to religious sects within the community. Within Lebanon, no religious group has a majority. Currently there are 11 different religious groups, with 128 seats of parliament spread proportionally between them. Districts are not segregated. A district might be assigned to Sunnis, meaning only Sunni politicians can run there, however, non-Sunnis are free to vote for whichever Sunni politician they choose.

The parliament also reserves certain offices for particular religious groups. The President of Lebanon is a post reserved for Maronite Christians. The office of Prime Minister, as previously mentioned, is reserved for Sunni Muslims. The speaker of parliament must be a Shiite Muslim. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President; however, he must maintain the confidence of parliament. This means that while he is guaranteed to be a Sunni, he must have enough votes from Parliament to insure that he can survive a vote of no confidence. A vote of no confidence is like an impeachment vote, however, it is easier to make happen. It can be called for any reason, not just in cases of wrongdoing. Should a majority vote to support a motion of no confidence, the Prime Minister is immediately removed from office.

The Syrian Connection

Syria was invited into Lebanon during the 1976 Lebanese Civil War. The 1989 Taif accords that ended that war provided a mandate for Syrian military occupation of Lebanon, in order to help maintain stability. Syrian involvement in Lebanon reflects its tremendous interest in Lebanon’s stability and political orientation. From an economic point of view, Lebanon is an important trading partner for Syria. The Shiite political party Hezbollah is also a stalwart ally of Syria in opposing Israel. While motives for the assassination are unclear, many believe that Rafiq Hariri’s support for the anti-Syrian opposition party was the primary cause of his assassination. The influence of Syria is evident its support of Hezbollah, which it provides aid to in both financial and material forms. After the assassination of Mr. Hariri in 2005, Syria bowed to international and Lebanese pressure and withdrew its forces from Lebanon. However, their ally Hezbollah continues to wield impressive political and military power, and the relationship between Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government and Hezbollah has only deepened during the course of the Syrian Civil War, which started in 2011. The tensions in Syria have been increasingly, and tragically, reflected in Lebanon, where tensions between Lebanon’s Shi’a and Sunni communities have mirrored the tensions playing out in Syria. Shi’a forces in the region (most notably Iran and Hezbollah) have sided with the Assad government, while the majority of the support for the mostly Sunni “moderate” Syrian opposition has come from Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Of course, the picture has been dramatically complicated by more extremist Sunni elements in Syria and Iraq, whether from Al Qaeda or ISIS (the Islamist State in Iraq and al-Sham, al-Sham being the name that much of Syria went by during the years of the Ottoman presence in the region) a more radical offshoot of Al Qaeda.

Your Position/Role Playing Notes

Like you, Saad Hariri will likely be a weak Prime Minister. He will also rely on a fragile coalition formed of many groups, forcing him to strike a middle ground. The stability of your government is frankly also dependent on the sentiments and actions of outside actors, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. He will need to be especially careful when dealing with issues such as Syria and Hezbollah. Losing the support of either of these entities would result in losing the necessary majority needed to rule.

The vulnerability of your party and your government makes your role that much more important, as it has been demonstrated that you were one of the few leaders in Lebanon who was acceptable to all of the major factions. Remember that you must appear to be open to working with all parties and groups. Indeed, this may in fact be the case. However, remember that you cannot afford to lose the support of large parties such as Hezbollah. Also, you must consider that Hezbollah has outside partners with whom you will be expected to work. Syria is a close ally of Hezbollah. Alienating them would only serve to torpedo your government. You must attempt to strike a middle ground and appease many forces. You are a Muslim, of course, but you are not an Islamist who believes that politics and government should be guided by Islamic teachings. You must view Hezbollah as a responsible political actor and at the same time attempt to assuage international fears that Lebanon is being governed by radicals.

One final point. The fact that you were able to form a government and actually become Prime Minister was due to Hezbollah’s support of your government, or at least its withdrawal of opposition. Although you would be foolish to take for granted the support of Lebanese Sunnis, you were accepted by Hezbollah and its allies. This fact means that you will likely have a key role in doing the behind-the-scenes political work that will be vital to keeping Saad Hariri’s government afloat, and that could also serve to improve the image of your party nationally. You will take on the key role of “bridge builder” with the Hezbollah Coalition, and in the wake of the 2018 elections, your ability to maintain a working relationship with the Hezbollah Coalition will go a long way towards determining the success of the newly-formed government

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