The long road to Lebanon’s new government
A new Lebanese government has been born, despite the many obstacles that have hindered its smooth formation
A new Lebanese government has been born, 10 months after Tammam Salam was tasked with forming one. Speaking as the country’s new prime minister, Salam described the new authority as a “unifying government and the best formula to allow Lebanon to confront challenges.”
After meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and the Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri at the presidential palace, the new prime minister said: “this government was formed in the spirit of unification, convergence without challenge, and it is able to revive the National Dialogue and tackle conflicting issues, and pave the way for presidential elections and be the catalyst for a new electoral law.”
The government, labeled by Salam as “the government of national interest,” consists of 24 ministers, divided into three equal parts for the two opposed groups (14 March and 8 March) as well as the centrists.
Prime Minister Salam noted that the seat allocation was formulated so as to steer the government away from negativity and that the rotation of seats would be applied so that the government would be free from any religious or sectarian monopoly.
The Lebanese Forces Party is not represented in the new cabinet as they refused to be part of any government that includes ministers from Hezbollah, as long as the armed wing of that party continues to fight in Syria.
Commenting on the new government, political analyst Tony Francis told Al Arabiya that “the present government has a heavy and wide representation and gathers key players in Lebanon, noting that the Lebanese Forces Party is represented through the coalition of 14 March even if it isn’t directly represented.”
Francis added that the new government is facing real issues that cannot be procrastinated upon, namely social and economic issues. The government must also find a solution to the pressing issue of the growing number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and deal with it in a way that preserves national interests.
Furthermore, Francis stated that the new government has to prepare for the upcoming presidential elections, as this is a national priority not just the cabinet’s priority.
Many obstacles have hindered the smooth formation of the new government, such as the position of the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, General Michel Aoun, who insisted that his son-in-law Gebran Bassil remains minister of Energy, as Lebanon was about to launch international tenders for oil and gas exploration. This was solved by appointing Arthur Nazarian from the Armenian “Tashnag” party, a member of the “Change and reform” coalition presided over by Aoun.
Hezbollah also stalled progress when it refused the appointment of the former director general of the Internal Security Forces, General Ashraf Rifi, as the minister of interior because of differences and accusations based on Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and its support to pro-Syrian regime forces in the northern city of Tripoli. This issue was solved by appointing another candidate from the al-Mustakbal movement, Nouhad Mashnouq, while Rifi was appointed as minister of justice.
Nouhad Mashnouq, the MP from al-Mustakbal movement, is a journalist and a former adviser to the late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, while General Ashraf Rifi is a prominent Sunni personality from Tripoli, considered by many as being able to contain Sunni extremist groups.
Supported by the former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rifi contributed greatly to dismantling the terror network of former minister Michel Samaha, accused of orchestrating terrorist attacks in Lebanon.
The editorialist Georges Soulage explained his theory as to why Hezbollah accepted to grant March 14 coalition members the seats of Justice, Interior and Telecoms, although these ministries have a key role in security and intelligence.
According to Soulage, Hezbollah’s stance is an indicator that Lebanon is in the wake of a positive period and regional entente, which will have a positive impact on the political and economic situation the country. He added that the new government reached by the different Lebanese factions is a result of the regional entente, nurtured by American and French pressures, and supported by Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, Soulage doubted that major breakthroughs will be achieved at the security level, as Lebanon’s security is related to regional conflicts such as the bloody war in Syria.
The road is difficult and the challenges are immense. As the new Prime Minister Tammam Salam said, his government has many tasks to achieve in little time. The the next challenge will be the cabinet’s manifesto, as some consider it a crucial part of the formation of the government. Controversy is expected to arise over Hezbollah’s arms and their role in the Syrian conflict.
Editor's note: The image to this story was changed on 17 Feb. after a notice was received from the Reuters picture service. The original image, a government-produced picture of Lebanese officials posing with members of the new cabinet, had been altered to include a picture of the speaker of parliament who wasn't actually there. More information here.