Lebanon gets a new cabinet; challenges remain

December 25, 2016
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (L)

Beirut - The Lebanese political dy­namic that emerged with the election of Michel Aoun as president seven weeks ago was reinforced by the formation of a national ac­cord cabinet that comprises mem­bers of most of the country’s politi­cal groups, including the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah.
The 30-member cabinet, an­nounced by Prime Minister Saad Hariri on December 18th, will have to deal with many pressing is­sues after almost two-and-a-half years of political paralysis. Among these are the fallout from the war in neighbouring Syria, maintain­ing the country’s security, reviving the stagnant economy, attracting much-needed investment and host­ing nearly 1.5 million Syrian refu­gees.
However, the cabinet’s main task will be preparing for parliamentary elections — the first in eight years — due in May. Hariri said the gov­ernment’s “first mission” was to work with the parliament to draft an electoral law that would secure “proportional and right representa­tion”. That would mean meeting a demand by Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, for greater Christian represen­tation.
The battle is also about securing a majority in the next parliament, which, if stripped away from Hariri and his anti-Syria/Iran allies, would give Hezbollah and its supporters the upper hand in the legislative council, too.
Hezbollah got its usual two port­folios — this time the ministries of Industry and Sports — in the new cabinet but its pro Syria/Iran allies have the Foreign, Defence and Jus­tice ministries, indicating Hezbol­lah’s influence is likely to increase on that front.
The new government includes 23 newcomers, among them Enaya Ezzeddine, who wears the veil, as minister for Administrative De­velopment. The appointment of a man, Jean Ogasapian, as the minis­ter in charge of Women’s Affairs, has been criticised. As has the choice of retired judge Salim Jreissati, a Christian, as Justice minister. He assisted the legal defence of Hez­bollah members tried in absentia by the Special Tribunal in The Hague for the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, Saad’s father.
The new cabinet still must be ap­proved by parliament.
Lebanese hopes have been re­vived by the positive political devel­opment in the country but neither the new cabinet nor the electoral law being drafted by the ruling par­ties themselves is likely to bring about major change, analysts say.