This is what the political balance of the new Lebanese government means
Damascus: Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati finally succeeded in forming a government, ending a 12-month political stalemate. What immediately caught everyone’s attention were two things: First, there was a star in its ranks, and the only regionally recognized name among the 24 ministers – George Qordahi. He is a famous television host who was appointed Minister of Information by Mikati.
The second revelation was that there was only one woman on the team, Najla Riachti, former Ambassador to the UN, now appointed Minister of Administrative Development. Here’s a look at what the cabinet has to offer, however, in terms of political balance.
Representation of Hezbollah
The third Mikati cabinet is made up of 12 Muslims and 12 Christians. The twin parties obtained a total of six portfolios, 3 for Hezbollah and 3 for the Amal Movement. Hezbollah won the Ministries of Public Works, Transport and Agriculture, losing the Ministry of Health it had controlled throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Public works were very important to the Iranian-backed party because that’s where all the money will go, when / if the reconstruction of Beirut begins.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who had tried to form a cabinet until his resignation in July, had consistently refused to hand over the Ministry of Public Works to them, fearing it would hamper reconstruction, frighten Arab investors and, eventually trigger US sanctions. States.
Their choice of minister is Ali Hamieh, a 44-year-old technocrat, with a doctorate in electronics and optical communications from the University of Brittany in France. He was in charge of the public works and transport portfolios. On the Agriculture side, Hezbollah chose Abbas Al Hajj Hussein, a 46-year-old former journalist who previously worked for France24.
The president of the Parliament of the Amal movement, Nabih Berri, received the portfolios of finance, labor and culture. The finance ministry is historically held by the Amal Movement, with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (who has ruled Amal since the Lebanese civil war) insisting that this portfolio becomes a permanent right for his party. His choice of minister is Yusuf Khalil, of French training, director of the financial operations department at the Central Bank of Lebanon.
President Michel Aoun had hesitated to cede the portfolio to Amal, saying it contradicted an initiative taken by French President Emmanuel Macron last September, calling for a rotation of ministerial posts between political parties and sects. He is also unhappy with the choice of the minister of Berri, saying that Khalil is close to the governor of the Central Bank Riad Salameh, whom Aoun and Hezbollah have been trying to overthrow for a year, without success.
For the Ministry of Culture, Nabih Berri chose Mohammad Murtada, judge at the urgent affairs tribunal, and for the Ministry of Labor, Mustafa Bayram, the former legal observer at the Accounts Department of the Lebanese Cabinet of Ministers.
The six portfolios run by Hezbollah and Amal are political lightweights, with all sensitive portfolios going to either Sunni Muslims or Christians, but they are enough to give both Shiite parties a veto over all decisions made in the government. within the Mikati cabinet.
The Hariri part
Hariri surprised observers by giving his support to Najib Mikati, who was chosen to replace him last July by President Aoun. He was hosted by the powerful Home Office, which he insisted will only go to a Sunni Muslim affiliated with his Future Movement. During the unsuccessful talks over his own cabinet, Hariri had fought with Aoun, who had demanded the Interior Ministry, saying that according to the Macron initiative, he should not remain in the hands of the Future Movement.
Hariri tried to meet him halfway, suggesting that he appoint a Christian to the post, rather than a Sunni Muslim, but affiliated with the Future Movement, which Aoun rejected. The post has now gone to Bassam Mawlawi, a Hariri protege and former judge in Beirut and northern Lebanon.
Mikati also bowed to Hariri’s demands, giving him his say on the new foreign minister. Aoun had demanded that the Foreign Ministry be chosen exclusively by the president and his son-in-law, Gibran Bassil of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). They were, however, forced to agree on a compromise candidate acceptable to them and to Hariri, Abdullah Bou Habib, former Lebanese ambassador to the United States in 1983-1990.
Hariri also got the strategic Ministry of Health, which under the previous two governments had been run by Hezbollah. New Minister Firas Abyad, a gastrointestinal surgeon, has gained fame over the past year and a half for running the Rafik Hariri State Hospital which takes care of COVID-19 patients.
Ordinary Lebanese respect him, seeing him as tough, reliable, hard-working and with an impeccable financial record. He graduated from the prestigious American University of Beirut (AUB).
Other portfolios entrusted to Hariri are the Ministry of the Environment, which went to another protégé named Nasser Yassin, head of the Crisis Observatory department at AUB.
The Aonist Block
One of the stumbling blocks for Hariri in November 2019-July 2020 was Aoun’s insistence that he appoint all Christian ministers in the new government and take on strategic portfolios like defense and foreign affairs. Aoun dropped the first request and won 6 of 33 seats, which still gives him the most seats in government.
This is justified by the fact that his parliamentary bloc, led by his son-in-law, currently comprises 29 MPs and is the largest in the chamber, entitling him to more cabinet seats than any other party in Lebanon.
Aoun has agreed to share the foreign minister’s appointment with Hariri, but the post will remain affiliated with the FPM and be part of his cabinet. In return for this concession, Aoun was given the powerful posts of defense and justice, in addition to the portfolios of energy, tourism and social affairs.
Christians cling to the defense ministry
The Ministry of Defense has always been one of the many demands of the FPM, held by the Aounists for more than a decade. His choice for the defense ministry is Maurice Salem, a retired army general whose last post in the Lebanese army was chief of military medicine.
The Ministry of Energy is a reward for the FPM for which Aoun and Bassil fought aggressively. Lebanon is currently engaged in maritime talks with Israel, under the auspices of the United Nations, which, once concluded, will allow the country to drill for gas, which is expected to be found in large quantities in its maritime waters. When / if this discovery is made, the Department of Energy will play a crucial role in managing the reserves, explaining why the Aounists wanted it so badly.
As for the Ministry of Justice, it will be important to protect the Aounists from any legal proceedings following the explosion of the port of Beirut in August 2020. A judicial investigation is currently underway and it has already indicted many allies of Aoun for “Criminal negligence”. ”Including the former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three of his ministers.
By controlling the Ministry of Justice, Aoun hopes that the investigations will stop there and do not reach his relatives or any members of his party. His choice for the Ministry of Justice is Henry Khoury, former head of the Lebanese Council of State.
One of Aoun’s concessions was to agree to abolish the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, which was part of his part but has now been abolished.
Najib Mikati has given two ministerial posts to the Marada Christian Party of Suleiman Frangieh, a senior member of the Hezbollah-led March 8 Coalition who has his sights set on the presidency. Frangieh’s share in parliament is low, with no more than 3 out of 128 in the Chamber of Deputies. He was given a cabinet more than his parliamentary representation deserves, through the Ministry of Information, which went to George Qordahi, and the Ministry of Telecommunications, which went to Johnny Corm.
Marada is strongly pro-Syrian and supported by Hezbollah, as is the Syrian Nationalist Social Party (PSNS), which obtained the post of deputy prime minister. This brings the number of ministers in favor of re-engagement with Syria to 15 out of 33, making it the most pro-Syrian government to come to power since Rafik Hariri’s assassination in 2005.