So, what the hell just happened in the North? First, an overblown, negative reaction to a memorandum of understanding between Hizballah and (some) Salafis. Then, the Saudi ambassador makes a surprise visit to Tripoli, eliciting in his wake a delirious torrent about Tripoli being the be-all end-all of all Sunnis. And now, the reconciliation in Tripoli strikes, like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky.
Both the delirium and the reconciliation have been interpreted in the Lebanese press (some of it, as the case always is) as repercussions of the Saudi visit to Tripoli (and international pressure on Saudi). Muhammad al-Safadi, a billionaire politician with excellent connections in Saudi Arabia and some following in the north (he also happens to be Minister of Economy & Trade), made some statements last week confirming suspicions that Hariri Jr. is changing his policy and opening up to other Sunni parties.
Saudis, the story goes, have given up on the untalented Sa`d and are investing in a wider Sunni base under the banner of “unifying the Sunnis”. This, however, does not explain the portrayal of the Tripoli reconciliation as a Sa`d Hariri accomplishment, this despite the presence of Sanioura, Karami, and Safadi. Not to mention that Miqati decided not to join, sending a representative in his stead, and al-Ahdab, the harbinger of doom, did not show up in any incarnation. Disgruntlement, to say the least.
In light of this, there is another reading to these developments. The memorandum signed in the Mufti’s residence could be more of a move to shore up rather than undermine Hariri Jr. It is no secret that Hariri’s popularity took a dunk after last May and this has had its severest impact in the North. Although he does not face much competition in Beirut, with the presence of smaller players such as Karami, Miqati, and Safadi and with recent talk about a Safadi-Karami coalition for the next elections, Hariri might very well perform poorly in the North. This Sunni-Sunni reconciliation (no, not Alawi-Sunni, I am afraid), will work in Hariri’s favor.
Whichever the case may be, Saudi Arabia has used the influence it has on its Sunni friends and allies, to “facilitate” coalitions and perhaps even broaden Hariri’s electoral base. Election year in Lebanon is full of surprises and miracles. The blind see, the paralyzed move, and the dead are brought back to life. Considering that a Sunni-Sunni alliance of “moderates” will leave many in Tripoli disgruntled, it remains to be seen whether this miracle will have any impact on Jabal Muhsin and Tabbaneh.