SAMI MOUBAYED On Wednesday, 10 ministers from the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri stepped down, all of them members of the Hezbollah-led Opposition. They were quickly followed by a Shia minister appointed by President Michel Suleiman - bringing the number to 11. This means that constitutionally the cabinet has collapsed because one-third of its ministers have stepped down. Not many were surprised, however, by the collective Opposition walkout on the 40-year-old prime minister and his 14-month-old government. When they originally agreed to join Hariris cabinet, in November 2009, the Opposition made the condition, among other things, that it get a blocking third in the government. Members of Hariris pro-Western March 14 Alliance said no, arguing that since they did not have a majority in parliament, the Opposition was not entitled to veto power in government. When the Opposition insisted, Hariri gave in but added a creative twist. March 14 was given 15 seats, the opposition was given 10 ministers, and Suleiman got to name five from different sects, one being Shia. On January 12, the 11th minister, Adnan al-Sayyed Hussein, tipped the balance against Hariri, making his government unconstitutional. The premier was miles away, walking into the White House for an audience with President Barack Obama. The resignations took place while the meeting was in session: Hariri walked in as the prime minister of Lebanon and left the Oval Office as the ex-premier. The main reason for collapse was a lack of progress over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is projected to issue indictments in the 2005 murder of Lebanons former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri any time this week. Since last summer, all speculation has pointed to an upcoming indictment that blames senior members of Hezbollah for the Hariri murder in 2005. The Opposition insists that the STL is a politicised affair, being manipulated by the US and Israel to target the arms and reputation of Hezbollah. What Israel failed to achieve during the war of 2006 - basically to break or weaken Hezbollahs influence in Lebanon - it would try to achieve indirectly through the STL. The fact that it has not questioned Israel in the Hariri affair and refused to arrest those confirmed as false witnesses, creates serious doubt about the UN-backed STLs credibility, with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah calling it an Israeli project. Hariri, however, is convinced by the tribunal, which he helped create along with heavyweights in March 14. According to intense Syrian-Saudi dialogue (known as the S-S Initiative) a breakthrough would have been possible if Hariri came out with a public statement distancing himself from the STL politically, financially and legally. The Opposition realises that as much as it wishes, it cannot eliminate the STL without a UN resolution. The only thing it can do is discredit it by distancing Lebanon completely from whatever it has to say, vis-a-vis current indictments and upcoming verdicts. What would have made things easier for them was the fact that Saudi Arabia was also not too enthusiastic about the STL, having called for solving the Hariri affair internally, rather than internationalising it two years ago. Syria too was unimpressed with the Hariri affair, where UN judges had tried - and failed - to blame Damascus for the murder. Top judge Daniel Bellemare was recently being quoted in diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks saying that he doesnt have a case against Syria. When the blame it on the Syrians argument fell through, a blame it on Hezbollah argument surfaced. Among the ideas that have surfaced in the S-S Initiative were: n Hariri making a loud U-turn on the STL, in exchange for maintaining his job as prime minister. n Hezbollah promising to quietly do away with the false witnesses case that was targeting Hariris top security, political and media advisers. That case, as far as March 14 was concerned, had to be eliminated for good. n Hezbollah agreeing to all guarantees that its arms will never be used internally. n Hariri promising to cease all debate about Hezbollah arms - as promised in his cabinet policy statement. He would effectively make sure that this topic is not raised either on the street, in the media or in the national dialogue that is taking place in Baabda Palace under Suleimans chairmanship. n Hariri would be asked to distance himself from loud pro-Israeli figures like ex-warlord Samir Geagea of the Lebanese Forces and ex-president Amin Gemayel. Hezbollah is furious that both these men still have the upper hand with the prime minister, although apart from wanting to see the Syrians out of Lebanon in 2005, they have nothing in common with Hariri. One of them, Geagea, is a convicted criminal who was jailed in connection with - among other things - the murder of Hariris predecessor, Rashid Karameh, in the 1980s. The prime ministers father Rafik made sure that Gagea remained clamped in chains throughout his tenure in the 1990s, only for Saad to release him, for political reasons, in 2005. Hariri, the Opposition has repeatedly said, would have to distance himself from these figures if he wanted to maintain a relationship with Nasrallah. In an interview with the London-based al-Hayat last week, Hariri made it crystal clear that he was not going to give up his allies. n Hariri dissolves his cabinet at will, and creates a new one where there is no majority or minority, where all posts are distributed equally among players along new confessional lines. The Shias would get the Ministry of Finance, the Sunnis would get the Ministry of Interior, the Greek Orthodox faction would get the Ministry of Defence while Maronites would get the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the same al-Hayat interview, Hariri made it clear that stepping down and forming a new cabinet was out of the question. Rather than step down at will, with a mandate to return from all players in the Opposition, Hariri decided to go the hard way, forcing the Opposition to bring him down through a collective resignation. What influenced his decision to stand by his guns is probably inside information obtained while in the US that the indictments were coming out within 48-72 hours, making any deal with the Opposition no longer necessary. Hariri after all has been in New York for a week, where in addition to meeting Saudi King Abdullah, he has conferred with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. There is no telling now what the future might hold for Lebanon. Hariri will certainly try to hold onto power, considering himself the legitimate prime minister. Two weeks ago, an Opposition heavyweight, speaker of parliament Nabih Berri, was confidently saying that his teams first, second and third choice as prime minister was Saad al-Hariri. Now the Opposition is saying that under no circumstances will Hariri be allowed to form a new government, because he has proven to be unfit for the job and unworthy of shouldering responsibility. The Opposition might name another premier, either Omar Karameh or Najib Mikati, two of Hariris predecessors who are both close to Damascus. If this happens, two cabinets will emerge, similar to the case in the late 1980s during the civil war. Or the Opposition might take to the streets and occupy downtown Beirut, as it did in 2006-2008, to force Hariri to step down or speak the magic words against the STL. Given all of his recent talks in Washington and New York, the option of Hariri caving in on the STL is seemingly out of the question. Asia Times