No time for boat-rocking as new government is formed - Monocolumn | Monocle


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22 June 2011

As Belgium celebrated its first anniversary of having no government last week, another divided country finally announced the formation if its Cabinet.

The past five months of negotiations in Lebanon were made all the more complicated by a confessional system that wavers according to regional politics – making it near to impossible to appoint the Cabinet. In the end, Nagib Mikati, the wealthy businessman who stepped in as prime minister after the fall of Saad Hariri’s coalition government, managed to gather together a list of ministers.

They all belong to the parties aligned to the “March 8” political camp, including Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Hezbollah, Amal (another Shia party), Walid Jumblatt’s Druze PSP and independent ministers hand-picked by President Michel Suleiman and Mikati himself.

Each ministry was fiercely fought over. In the end, Michel Aoun’s FPM collected a sizeable portion of the key cabinets and appeared as the overall winner. Hezbollah, which got just two portfolios, appears to be following the Arab proverb “take what you can, and ask for more (later)” – leaving its allies to run the risk of failure.

For Andrew Arsan, a Lebanon specialist and postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University, the Cabinet demonstrates “the brittleness of the alliance between the various parties of the self-styled ‘new majority’, and the opportunism of their backing for Mikati”. The latter, he adds, “seems determined to present himself as his own man, but the question is whether Hezbollah and Aoun will allow him”.

As former prime minister Saad Hariri observed from Saudi Arabia (some say following rumours of assassination threats), his “March 14” coalition, boycotted invitations to join the new formation. Now that the Cabinet has been announced, they have been quick at writing it off as pro-Syrian.

To prove their point, they note that Syrian president, Bashar al Asaad – who was too busy to take Ban Ki-moon’s call – was the first foreign dignitary to congratulate his Lebanese counterparts. For Arsan, the timing of the new government shows “the Syrian regime has become more reliant on its Lebanese allies as it seeks to quell internal opposition”.

Mikati’s team still needs to be sworn in by parliament. Until then, some fear the status quo will be upset by the spectre of the Special Tribunal to Lebanon. Charged with investigating the murder of Prime Minster Rafik Hariri, the indictments are reportedly due in July. Tensions on the Syrian borders are not helping either. Yet proponents of realpolitik might argue that a Lebanese Cabinet friendly to Syria will help the country keep a modicum of stability.

After all, the last thing Lebanon needs right now is for a foreign power to rock its unsteady boat – even with a captain finally on board.


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