Brent Scowcroft Center Resident Senior Fellow for Middle East Security writes for World Politics Review on why the power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia is the root cause of the failure to elect a new Lebanese president:
On June 18, Lebanese parliamentarians met for the seventh time to elect a new president but failed to do so. Speaker Nabih Berri had to postpone the session to July 2, cautioning against a prolonged presidential vacuum reminiscent of 2007-2008, when it took 20 sessions to settle on Michel Suleiman as a compromise choice. The immediate cause of the failure to choose a successor to Suleiman, whose term expired on May 25, is the boycott of the majority of parliamentarians belonging to the pro-Hezbollah March 8 alliance.
But the root causes of the crisis are external. They are linked to the regional power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the main outside backers, respectively, of the Shiite Hezbollah and its rival, the Sunni Future Movement. So long as Tehran and Riyadh disagree over who should occupy the presidential seat in Baabda Palace, Lebanon will be without a head of state.
That the impasse has lasted so long is in some ways surprising. In February, Saudi Arabia and Iran, in a moment of realpolitik, came together to help form a new government in Beirut that included all the relevant Lebanese political factions. That Tammam Salam, and not some hard-line and partisan Sunni figure, was appointed as the new prime minister was indicative of the Saudis and Iranians’ mutual desire to shield Lebanon from the chaos and unrest in the region, especially next door in Syria. Salam was considered by many observers to be a relatively neutral, consensus candidate for Tehran and Riyadh.