'This is a crisis of national identity,' Lebanese minister tells FRANCE 24

Anwar Amro, AFP | A woman and her two children walk past a banner bearing a portrait of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the capital Beirut on November 5, 2017, a day after the announcement of his surprise resignation.

A day after Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri unexpectedly resigned saying he feared for his life, Education Minister Marwan Hamade told FRANCE 24 his country is facing an identity crisis, caught between Saudi Arabia and Iran.


In announcing his resignation on Saturday from the Saudi capital Riyadh, Hariri accused Iran and Hezbollah – Tehran's ally in the Lebanese government – of seeking to dominate the region.

"Iran has a grip on the fate of the region's countries ... Hezbollah is Iran's arm not just in Lebanon but in other Arab countries too," Hariri said.

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Education Minister Marwan Hamade said Hariri's move was not a complete surprise, given the rising tensions in the government.

Hamade said it had become "obvious" that a tenuous compromise reached by President Michel Aoun and Hariri last October – on including Hezbollah in the government as long as they tempered their actions – was about to fail.

Under the power-sharing agreement that ended the country's civil war, the post of president is designated for a Maronite Christian while that of prime minister is reserved for a Sunni and the president of the parliament is a Shiite.

But the country is also sharply divided between a camp loyal to Saudi Arabia – led by Hariri, a Sunni Muslim – and a camp loyal to Iran headed by Hezbollah. President Aoun, who was elected in October 2016 after the presidential post remained vacant for two years, is a close ally of Hezbollah.

Hamade said that Hariri's departure was nevertheless a "defeat" for Hezbollah. Hariri was responsible for conveying some amount of legitimacy on the armed group's continuing and prominent role in the Lebanese government, allowing it to continue to infiltrate the state apparatus as well as the “social and political life” of the country.

By resigning, the Lebanese population may now demand further concessions from Hezbollah and demand they take a more moderate position.

Hamade predicts that in the coming days, President Aoun will need to call a "national congress" meeting bringing together all of Lebanon’s political factions.

"The government crisis will not be resolved by the usual constitutional steps," he said. "This is a deeper crisis, a crisis of national identity: Are we with the Arab camp? Are we being driven into the Iranian orbit?"

These are the major questions Lebanon now faces in the future, he said.

Click on the video player above to view the full FRANCE 24 interview.

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