Crisis in Lebanon / Siniora's Government on the Road to Collapse

Even without the warnings emanating from the White House, it is clear that Lebanon is embroiled in a severe political crisis. Since the end of the war in Lebanon, and especially over the last two weeks, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been honing his demands of Fouad Siniora's government.

Ostensibly, Nasrallah is complaining that the government has not done enough to rehabilitate the country after the war; he also charges that even when the government does help the needy, it discriminates against sectors affiliated with Hezbollah. As a result, he is demanding the establishment of a national unity government in which the Shi'a parties - Amal and Hezbollah - would have greater representation.

Currently, they comprise only five of the 24 ministers; Nasrallah wants to increase this to one-third. He also wants to add representatives of Michel Aoun's party, which, like Hezbollah, is pro-Syrian. This would effectively give the Shi'as a veto over important decisions, since under Lebanon's constitution, such decisions must be approved by two-thirds of the cabinet.

Siniora opposes a unity government, as this would probably restore Syria's influence over Lebanese politics, constrain Lebanon's economic and foreign policy, and stall the probe into the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. He argues that the election results, which gave the anti-Syrian bloc about 70 percent of the seats in parliament, should be honored, and rules out a unity government unless it agrees in advance to accept the seven-point plan that ended the war.

Nasrallah, for his part, is relying on the street. He has given the government an ultimatum - either a unity government, on his terms, by November 13, or mass protests in the street. Officially, he is not threatening violence, only peaceful sit-ins. But it is clear to everyone that such protests will contain the seeds of a violent outbreak.

Nasrallah's calculation is that if the government falls, he will win more seats in the next election - and if he does not win a majority, he can always continue to threaten the government from outside. Siniora, for his part, has few options: A unity government would neutralize his political power, but he has no guarantee of winning new elections.

In the coming days, attempts to reach a compromise will continue. For now, however, it seems as if the government is en route to collapsing.