Which way will Lebanon go next?
Ten days after stepping down, pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami was reappointed Thursday.
When Rania Malik made a decision in 1993 to return to Lebanon after a decade of living in the United States, she did so largely because of her confidence in one man - Rafik Hariri, the billionaire property tycoon who had been appointed prime minister a year earlier.Skip to next paragraph
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But Mr. Hariri's murder in a massive car bomb last month and the subsequent political turmoil has made Mrs. Malik, a schoolteacher in her 30s, think long and hard about her future in this small Mediterranean country.
"I remember Hariri going on television and telling us Lebanese expatriates to come back, and we trusted him so much that we did," she says. "Now I feel like my parents did in 1975," the year civil war broke out in Lebanon. "My sense of security has gone," she adds.
Such was Hariri's larger-than-life reputation among the Lebanese, that his death has created a sense of national loss and foreboding about the future. That foreboding was reinforced by the announcement Thursday that Prime Minister Omar Karami has been renamed as premier, just 10 days after mass street protests led to his resignation and the collapse of the government.
His reappointment came after consultations on Wednesday between Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and members of the 128-seat parliament. Negotiations are under way to form a new government, although there are not many candidates for the vacancies. Some of the ministers of the outgoing government reportedly have declined to return to their posts.
Even Mr. Karami was reluctant to resume the premiership, analysts say. Karami, a relatively inexperienced politician, will be faced with balancing Syrian desires to remain a power broker in Lebanon, despite the current withdrawal of its troops, and demands from the opposition and the international community for free and fair elections and an end to Syrian domination.
"The only way to confront all the difficulties facing the nation is a government of national unity," Karami said. "If there is any procrastination in responding to this invitation, it means we're heading to destruction."
But the Lebanese opposition is refusing to participate in a new government until key demands are met, such as the removal of Lebanon's top security chiefs and the withdrawal of all Syrian forces.
"There will be a situation where a naked skeleton of security services, Lebanese and Syrian, will face a country in rebellion," says Simon Karam, a former Lebanese ambassador to Washington and an opposition leader. "The peaceful demonstrations will continue ... and we will deprive the government of any legitimacy."
But the prospect of a weak government and a continuation of the crisis spells a period of political and economic paralysis, analysts say.
Since Hariri's assassination, the Central Bank has spent some $4 to $5 billion of its $13.8 billion in foreign currency reserves to help prop up the Lebanese pound at its current rate of 1,500 to the US dollar. But in another month, the Central Bank will have to stop spending and the Lebanese pound will go into freefall, says Nicholas Photiades, a financial consultant in Beirut.