In 2005, I went to the Grand Serail, where I found Najib Mikati sitting on Rafik Hariri’s chair, while Hariri lay in his grave, a few hundred meters away from the Serail.
The country was split sharply between those who marched to thank Syria, and those who demonstrated to call for Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon. Mikati’s community stood with the second camp, which was the main reason why Omar Karami resigned under pressure from the public, especially within his community.
Mikati had to find a place for him to stand between the two rival camps at home, and between Hariri’s grave on the one hand, and his close relationship with the Syrian leadership on the other. He was not lacking in ingenuity. He thus decided not to run in the parliamentary elections which he only supervised, inviting praise for him at home and abroad.
He undoubtedly realized that his community had chosen its new leader, who was Saad Hariri. In 2005, Mikati’s sojourn in the Serail was based on a natural and full mandate, allowing him to leave with enough popularity to remain an important player in his community, while being fully aware of whom its new leader was.
In 2011, I went to the Grand Serail again, where I found Mikati sitting on Saad Hariri’s chair. I asked him about the risk that he took, and he said that he felt the country threatened to slide into the unknown, and that his duty prevented him from shirking responsibility no matter how difficult. But I felt that the man had risked too much.
Syria, which Mikati could not break from, was struck by a version of the Arab Spring conceived in blood, pushing Syria into an unprecedented Arab and Islamic isolation. At home, a majority in the Sunni community took the exclusion of Saad Hariri as a new wound added to the assassination of his father, and then the May 7 incidents in Beirut.
Furthermore, the deterioration in Sunni-Shia relations, which began in the wake of Rafik Hariri’s assassination, worsened to the point where the Sunni majority started calling for Hezbollah to be disarmed. Moreover, the parliamentary mandate itself seemed incomplete this time, as non-democratic and non-gentle means were used to 'persuade' Walid Jumblatt to join, and turn the parliamentary majority upside down.
Mikati tried to coexist with the dreadful news coming from Syria day after day. He raised the banner of self-dissociation from the Syrian crisis and sat beneath it. He tried to swim away from the high waves, and steer clear of mine fields. He made a reference here, half a statement there, and a quarter of hint in between.
Mikati had an eye on Syria, and another on his community. Saad Hariri declared his public support for the Syrian opposition. Mikati then feared his community would soon dissociate itself from him. He thus approved the funding of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), and kept the targeted Sunni security chiefs in their posts.
But the game seemed more complicated. Mikati was hit by “friendly fire”. First, there was the Samaha-Mamlouk scandal, documented in video and audio. Then, there was the trip by Hezbollah’s drone Ayoub and the growing talk of Hezbollah’s ground support for the Syrian regime.
Meanwhile, General Aoun did not consider himself obliged to help Mikati, and did not ease his attacks on his community. This is not to mention Hariri’s shadow in the Serail and Tripoli.
But despite this, Mikati benefited from stability and the absence of assassinations, and managed to achieve some international breakthroughs, except in the Gulf. But then with the assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, Mikati’s ingenuity took a direct hit.
In the last week of July, I went to visit Prime Minister Mikati at his home in London. It was not my purpose to conduct an interview with him, but I was surprised to hear him say, “The situation in Lebanon requires an emergency government, and I will not stand in the way of forming one.” I had to publish this, and I did.
I felt that Mikati was worried about the coming days, and that he may have finally tired of both his foes and allies, or wanted to send a message to those concerned and who remained reproachful of him for too long.
Yesterday, I read Mikati’s statement in which he declared that resignation was now out of the question for him. Clearly, he does not want to step down in the same manner as Omar Karami before him. But I have a feeling that the successive events in Lebanon are more than Mikati can bear, and that he wants to arrange his exit to take place at a time that suits him.
In Lebanon, what good would it do one to win the whole world but lose his own community? And who knows? The future may show that those who punished Hariri by driving him out of the Serail and exiling him, had done him a service, and that those who rewarded Mikati by putting him in the Serail had pushed him into a bitter test.
Indeed, Mikati’s fate has gone hand in hand with that of the Hariri family. Whenever he entered the Serail, he found Hariri’s shadow lurking in it.
Ghassan Charbel is a columnist at al Hayat News website. This article was published on Oct. 29, 2012