The resignations of 11 Hezbollah cabinet members in Lebanon has plunged the country into its worst political crisis since 2008, when sectarian street clashes claimed dozens of lives and brought Lebanon to the brink of another civil war. The so-called Doha agreement of May, 2008, ended 18 months of political violence.
The latest crisis revolves around the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal investigating the suicide bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in 2005. Saudi-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain statesman, has supported the Tribunal, which has been set to blame Hezbollah. Hezbollah has denied any involvement in Hariri’s death, shifting the blame to Israeli.
Both Syria and Saudi Arabia had been working to mediate the controversy, but those talks broke down earlier this week without any resolution.
Hisham Youssef is the Chief of Staff for the Secretary General of the League of Arab States Amr Moussa. He spoke to VOA's Cecily Hilleary from his office in Cairo.
Hilleary: How serious is the current situation?
Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League, right, talks to his Chief of Staff Hisham Youssef at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt (file photo)
Youssef: It is extremely serious. There is a political crisis, and therefore, it requires the attention not only of the Arab world, but of the international community as well.
Hilleary: There had been some optimism that Syria and Saudi Arabia’s mediation would have a positive effect. But the discussions failed rather suddenly. What happened?
Youssef: Well, they weren’t able to persuade the different political forces in Lebanon to reach an understanding that would allow them to agree on a future path of how to deal with the problems.
Hilleary: What was the main sticking point?
Youssef: The main sticking point is how to deal with the International Tribunal.
Hilleary: What is the Arab League’s stand on the Tribunal?
Youssef: Well, this is a tribunal that is mandated by the [United Nations] Security Council. Therefore, it is part of international legitimacy. And as part of the international legitimacy and part of Security Council resolutions, then we cannot but respect Security Council resolutions.
Our only remark that we can say in relation to this issue is that this Tribunal should not be politicized. And we should ensure that it does its work in profession. That is the most important aspect of the Tribunal.
Hilleary: Do you agree with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks that the withdrawal by the so-called March 8th ministers was simply an attempt to derail the Tribunal?
Youssef: Well, I think the situation is more complicated than that. However, we have to look to the future and see how we can help the different political forces in Lebanon regain normalcy and go back to a government that would be able to shoulder the responsibility of challenges facing Lebanon.
Hilleary: When will the League be meeting on this crisis, and what role do you see the Arab League playing in helping to resolve it?
Youssef: Well, as you may know, the Arab League has been extremely active regarding the difficulties facing Lebanon for quite some time, and the Doha agreement that was reached was reached in the context of Arab efforts that was [sic] led by the Arab League.
So the situation in Lebanon is of concern to us and we have been following this issue very closely, including efforts by Saudi Arabia and Syria. And we have a summit that will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh in a few days’ time. This will be preceded on the 17th of January with a ministerial meeting.
And I’m sure that the Ministers of Foreign Affairs who will be in Sharm el-Sheikh will be consulting on this issue to see what can be done, when it can be done and how it can be done. And in the meantime, there are very high-level contacts in order to see how to address this situation in general.
Hilleary: Many politicians in Lebanon want a “homegrown” solution to the problem. Should Lebanon be left to solve this by itself?
Youssef: We would have hoped for Lebanon to be able to solve its problems by itself. But this has proven to be quite difficult - for years and years. So this is not the first time. We can hope it will be the last. Throughout the recent history of Lebanon there have been efforts by third parties to help Lebanese political forces to address their difficulties, and I think the current situation is no different. I think Lebanon will need the help.