Effort to Form Lebanon Government Collapses
Lebanon was left without an effective government Friday when rival Christian and Muslim groups both claimed sole right to run the country and another effort to elect a president collapsed.
State Department officials said they will continue to pressure all factions to allow Parliament to choose a president to succeed Amin Gemayel, whose term expired Friday. But Lebanese officials uniformly held out little hope of a resolution.
Failure would leave the country partitioned along sectarian lines.
“We’ve crossed the Rubicon,” conceded one U.S. official. “Without elections, the best we can hope for is that Christian Lebanon will be to the larger Muslim sector what Hong Kong is to China.”
A third attempt in five weeks to hold an election in Parliament to fill the presidency collapsed Friday. Lebanese sources said they did not expect another attempt for some time--"if ever,” said a confidant of several politicians.
Estimated 150,000 Deaths
Although neither side favors partitioning the country into Christian and Muslim sectors, U.S. officials said, 15 years of civil strife and an estimated 150,000 deaths have made reconciliation unreachable for now.
Lebanon’s constitution reserves the presidency and six of every 11 government jobs for Christians, even though Muslims now constitute about 55% of the population. Muslims insist on a new balance of power, but Christians, insecure about the last Christian stronghold in the Middle East, have repeatedly balked.
A Maronite Christian, Maj. Gen. Michel Aoun, commander of the Lebanese army, appeared to be the acting chief of state Friday on the Christian side of Lebanon’s capital of Beirut. Gemayel, in the final hour before his term as president expired, had appointed Aoun on Thursday to head a six-member provisional military government.
But the three non-Christian members of the provisional government--two Muslims and one Druze--refused to participate and expressed loyalty to the old government of Premier Salim Hoss.
Hoss, trying to assert official control in Muslim West Beirut, announced plans for a meeting this weekend of the Cabinet that had ruled under Gemayel. U.S. officials expected, however, that only Muslim and Druze Cabinet members would attend.
Hoss, a Sunni Muslim, called the appointment of the provisional military government illegal. Hussein Husseini, the Shia Muslim speaker of Lebanon’s Parliament, said, “The military government is non-existent.”
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt blasted the appointment of the provisional government as “a midget coup d’etat.”
Aoun, trying to rally support, declared: “We haven’t come to impose martial law in Lebanon. My program is to arrange the speedy election of a new president.”
But it appeared increasingly unlikely that his authority would extend beyond Lebanon’s Christian enclave, which extends from East Beirut north into the countryside. Aoun, a Maronite Christian, could not safely even go to the premier’s office, which is in the Muslim side of the capital.
The main Christian sector constitutes only about 10% of Lebanon’s 4,000 square miles and is home to about one-quarter of the nation’s estimated 4 million population.
In a seemingly unrelated event inside Lebanon, the Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine issued its third appeal in eight days Friday concerning the release of the three Americans and one Indian it holds hostage.
“We are ready after any positive development or answer to determine the arrangements and steps for the families of the hostages to end the issue,” the group said.