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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

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Sep 16th
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Extremism In Lebanon arrow New National Unity Government Announced in Lebanon
New National Unity Government Announced in Lebanon PDF Print E-mail
Written by GLOBAL INSIGHT   
Monday, 14 July 2008

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After weeks of delay, Lebanon has finally announced the formation of a new 30-member unity government—a move which has been hailed as a major step towards a new and stable Lebanon.


Global Insight Perspective

 

Significance

The new line-up was announced seven weeks after the signing of the Doha peace accord which pulled Lebanon back form the brink of a new civil war.

Implications

Crucially, the allocation of 11 seats to the opposition effectively gives Hizbollah veto powers. The Shi’a group will now be well positioned to scupper legislation contrary to its internal and regional interests and alignments, although it has continually vowed to serve the national interest.

Outlook

Tasked with resolving one of the worst political crises since the civil war, all eyes will now be on whether the new cabinet will be successful in facilitating a more consultative political dynamic.

 

A Fresh Start?

 

Lebanese political leaders finally announced the formation of a new unity cabinet on Friday, after seven weeks of infighting and political bickering over the allocation of key cabinet positions. The formation of the cabinet, which was hailed as a major breakthrough, is expected to ease tensions in the country—which remains deeply divided along a complex mix of various sectarian and political fault lines. The cabinet will be the country’s first fully fledged government since November 2006 when the opposition staged a walkout, prompting an 18-month crisis which left the country teetering on the verge of civil war. The make-up of the cabinet has already been predetermined by the Doha accord signed on 21 May during which it was agreed that 16 ministerial portfolios were to be allocated to the Western-backed parliamentary majority while the remaining 11 seats will go to the Hezbollah-led opposition (see Lebanon: 21 May 2008:Lebanese Leaders Clinch Deal to End Stand-Off). The Qatari-brokered deal came after the worst outbreak of sectarian violence for several months, during which 65 people were killed. Hezbollah flexed its military muscle by staging a dramatic takeover of several mainly Sunni neighbourhoods of western Beirut. Hizbollah, which is supported by both Syria and Iran, has since assumed the political upper hand and will now become a veto-wielding force within the Lebanese government.

 

Hizbollah Consolidates its Hold

 

Much to Washington’s dismay, Hizbollah is to continue asserting its superiority on the national stage and is likely to have more of a say over decision-making on national issues. Despite concerns over the groups’ now-strengthened position, many have seen it as preferable to the alternative, a descent into civil war. Hizbollah was allocated three seats in the cabinet, including the labour ministry. The overall the opposition assumed several key portfolios, including those of foreign affairs, telecommunications, and the role of deputy premier. Michel Suleiman, who assumed the presidency left vacant since last November merely days after the Doha accord, chose three ministers (including controversially the reappointment of Defence Minister Elias Murr). Suleiman also appointed Ziad Baroud to the troubled interior ministry; Baroud, who has a strong legal background, is expected to play a key part in preparing the nation for the upcoming legislative election in 2009. The finance ministry post was filled by new appointee, Mohamed Shatah; a reform advocate who worked for the IMF for several years, he was the prime minister’s senior advisor when he himself was finance minister some years ago. A sole female minister, Bahia Hariri, sister of murdered former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, is to take up the education portfolio.

 

Lebanon's New Cabinet

Position

Minister

Grouping

Changed?

Prime Minister

Fouad Siniora

Sunni

unchanged from July 2005 lineup

Deputy Prime Minister

Issam Abu Jamra

Greek Orthodox

new

Defence Minister

Elias Murr

Greek Orthodox

unchanged

Foreign Minister

Fawzi Salukh

Shi’a

returns to post resigned in 2006

Interior Minister

Ziad Baroud

Maronite

new

Finance Minister

Mohammed Shatah

Sunni

new

Administrative Development Minister

Ibrahim Shamseddin

Shi’a

new

Telecommunications Minister

Gibran Bassil

Maronite

new

Information Minister

Tareq Mitri

Greek Orthodox

change of post

Justice Minister

Ibrahim Najjar

Greek Orthodox

new

Public Works and Transport Minister

Ghazi Aridi

Druze

change of post

Sports and Youth Minister

Talal Arslan

Druze

new

Education Minister

Bahia Hariri

Sunni

new

Displaced Persons Minister

Raymond Audi

Greek Orthodox

new

Energy and Water Minister

Alan Taburian

Armenian

new

Labour Minister

Mohammed Fneish

Shi’a

Returns, change of post

Agriculture Minister

Elie Skaff

Greek Catholic

new

Health Minister

Mohammad Khalifeh

Shi’a

returns to post

Social Affairs Minister

Mario Aoun

Maronite

new

Industry Minister

Ghazi Zaayter

Shi’a

new

Tourism Minister

Elie Maruni

Maronite

new

Culture Minister

Tammam Slam

Sunni

new

Environment Minister

Antoine Karam

Maronite

new

Economy and Trade Minister

Mohammed Safadi

Sunni

change of post

State Minister

Yusuf Taqla

Greek Catholic

new

State Minister

Wael Bou Faour

Druze

new

State Minister

Ali Qanso

Shi’a

new

State Minister

Nassib Lahoud

Maronite

new

State Minister

Jean Ogassapian

Armenian

change of post

State Minister

Khaled Qabbani

Sunni

change of post

Source: Agence France Presse

 

Syria-Lebanon Ties

In an additionally positive move, Syria and Lebanon have announced plans to re-establish diplomatic ties a move which is expected to see the two countries open embassies on each other’s territories the first time since gaining independence. The new deal was announced by French president Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday during the opening ceremony for the Union for the Mediterranean summit in Paris. Syria has been repeatedly criticised for meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs and for previously preventing the election of Lebanon’s president; last month Syrian president Bashar al-Asad said that establishing ties with Lebanon would be conditional on the formation of a national unity cabinet. Syria's relations with Lebanon—and much of the Western world—deteriorated in 2005 when Rafiq Hariri was assassinated in Beirut. Syria's critics accuse Damascus of having a role in the killing, a charge Syria denies. Syria, which dominated the situation in Lebanon for over three decades, stationed tens of thousands of its troops in the country. Its vast intelligence network has been complicit in continuing to ferment discord in its small neighbouring territory.

Outlook and Implication

The new government will now be faced with the tremendous task of attempting to heal the political wounds brought about through months of factional discord and infighting. As congratulations from leaders from across the globe continue to poor in, unease over the situation has already begun to creep in, with concerns resurfacing over whether long-standing tensions will persist in the next cabinet—due to hold its first meeting on Wednesday (16 July). Following the announcement of appointees to the cabinet, Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, who was reappointed only weeks ago, said that the government will be aiming "to restore confidence in political institutions and the Lebanese political system … and promote moderation”; this is something which will not be an easy task given Lebanon’s difficult history. Seniora added: "Our differences will not be resolved overnight, but we decided to resolve them through institutions and dialogue rather than through the streets." Hizbollah, whose military superiority was apparent during clashes prior to the Doha accord, has now assumed the political upper-hand. Crucially however, according to media reports the deal on the cabinet was as a result of concessions on both sides; these include reports that the nomination of Ali Qanso (a Hizbollah ally and former leader of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party) was accepted as part of a last-minute decision to appease Hizbollah. What remains certain is the fact the Hizbollah will continue to reassert its authority on the national stage, possibly using its power to scupper legislation contrary to its internal and regional interests and alignments, despite its commitment to serve the national interest.


 
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