The Lebanese are currently waiting on the bench, torn between feelings of optimism and pessimism about the election of a new president. The catalyst of their brittle optimism relates to two internal and external factors. The first is the return to Lebanon of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Aug. 2 for the first time in three years, and the second is the denial of another term in office for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. These events are thought to have the potential to change the course of the Lebanese presidential crisis, based on the deep-seated belief that any decision concerning Lebanon's internal affairs is made by powers outside the country.
Hariri, the young leader of the Sunni majority, left Lebanon in January 2011 after the toppling of his government at the hands of a coalition that included the Shiite political powers, Michel Aoun (leader of the Christian majority) and Walid Jumblatt (leader of the Druze majority). A new government, led by Najib Mikati, was then formed. The Lebanese explanation for the toppling was not limited to mere parliamentary calculations. Rather, many thought it might be a Syrian-Iranian coup against Saudi Arabia in Beirut with American acquiescence. It was also rumored that a quiet US-Syrian-Iranian agreement had been reached at the end of 2010 whereby Maliki was granted the premiership in Baghdad, and Hariri was ousted in Beirut. Because politics in the Middle East often takes violent turns, Hariri decided to leave Lebanon at that time. After his absence for an extended period, speculation circulated that Beirut lacked adequate security, and Hariri’s life would be in danger if he were to return.