Hezbollah's Nasrallah Surprisingly Backs Political Rival for Lebanon's PM, Paving Way to End Crisis

Nasrallah and former prime minister al-Hariri have been at odds for years, but the rivalry may be at an end as both sides endorse General Michel Aoun for the presidency.

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters during a public appearance at a religious procession to mark Ashura in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon October 12, 2016.
Aziz Taher, Reuters

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah announced Sunday that he is ready to accept his political opponent and the head of Lebanon's opposition, Saad al-Hariri, as the country's prime minister.

Nasrallah's announcement came after former prime minister al-Hariri said on Thursday that he would support General Michel Aoun to be elected president.

Aoun stands at the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, considered one of Hezbollah's key allies. Nasrallah has said on different occasions that Aoun is the organization's chosen candidate. Nasrallah's comments on Sunday came at a memorial event for one of Hezbollah's commanders who was killed while fighting in Syria, but interest focused mainly on Nasrallah's speech and political messages in wake of Thursday's developments.

Nasrallah said that the situation in Lebanon and in the region demands compromise and so, after al-Hariri announced his support for Aoun, he decided not to oppose al-Hariri's return to the prime ministerial position. 

The decisions from al-Hariri and Nasrallah seemed to have been formed over the last few weeks and some even believe that their agreement on the matter is part of a deal to pave al-Hariri's way back to the prime minister's seat.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shakes hands with Christian leader Michel Aoun after Hariri announced his support for Aoun to be president, Beirut, Lebanon, October 20, 2016.
Hussein Malla, AP

Al-Hariri said that Aoun is the only option left to unify Lebanon and prevent the country's deterioration into a new civil war that could erupt out of the political vacuum and lack of stability in the region stemming from Syria's bloody conflict.

According to the Lebanese constitution, the post of president must be filled by a Maronite Christian and the selection of a president has always been a source of political conflict in which, until 2005, Syria had major influence.

Former President Michel Suleiman, an army commander who was elected in 2008, finished his term in May 2014, leaving the position empty until now. Differences of opinion between the Christian political parties and conflict between the different factions have been frequent, especially between the March 14 Alliance led by al-Hariri, allied with and funded by Saudi Arabia, and the March 8 Alliance, with Hezbollah at its head, supported by both the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

Hezbollah and al-Hariri's camp have been at odds since the 2005 assassination of al-Hariri's father, former prime minister Rafic al-Hariri. Some in Al-Hariri's camp accused Hezbollah of committing the murder.

Aoun, who was forcibly exiled by Syria in 1991 after opposing the Taif Agreement which ended the country's civil war and allowed the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon, returned in May 2005. He took up leadership of the Free Patriotic Movement, the second largest party in Parliament with 21 seats. In order to stand up to his political rivals within the Christian faction, he signed an alliance with Hezbollah.

Aoun's election as president would mark a victory for the Iranian-Syrian influence in Lebanon, but if al-Hariri becomes prime minister, the situation will appear to be a covert agreement of sorts to divide the cake so that Hezbollah's candidate receives the presidentcy while Saudi Arabia's ally takes the prime minister's seat.  

The Parliamentary vote to elect the Lebanese president is scheduled to take place on October 31.