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Mikati unveils 30-member Cabinet dominated by Hizbullah and March 8 allies.

--Mikati Unveils 30-Member Cabinet Dominated by Hizbullah and March 8 Allies

--Cabinet Formation Puts End to Five- Month Power Vacuum-Mikati Says Government Won't Confront International Community

--Assad Congratulates Suleiman, Reflecting Syria's Role in Cabinet Formation

--U.S. to Judge New Cabinet by its Actions

--Berri's Concession of Shiite Portfolio to Sunnis Led to Cabinet's Creation

--State Minister Arslan Resigns, Dealing Setback to New Cabinet

--March 14 Parties Dismiss Mikati's Cabinet as Hizbullah-Led Government

--Aoun Emerges as Biggest Winner from Cabinet Lineup

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati unveiled a 30-member Cabinet Monday dominated by the powerful Shiite Hizbullah group and its March 8 allies, putting an end to a five-month political stalemate that had thrown the divided country into a power vacuum and paralyzed its institutions.

Syria signaled its support and role in the Cabinet's formation with President Bashar al- Assad quickly congratulating President Michel Suleiman on the government's formation.

In sharp contrast and as widely expected, the Western-backed March 14 coalition, which had decided to boycott Mikati's government, swiftly dismissed the new Cabinet as "a Hizbullah-led government."

Unlike previous governments which included at least two women, Mikati's Cabinet team includes no female members.

The Cabinet's formation came after more than four months of feuding and tough bargaining involving the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance, Suleiman, and Mikati over the distribution of portfolios. The announcement surprised many Lebanese, including media people and politicians, because it happened a day after hopes for an early birth of the government were dashed as new snags emerged over the representation of the former Sunni opposition and a Druze party.

In fact, two things had helped the government's formation: Syria's central role, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's concession of a Shiite portfolio to the Sunnis to solve the problem of representation of former Sunni opposition, that is, of the Sunni political opponents of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.

The Cabinet's formation came less than a week after Assad called for a speedy formation of a new Lebanese government as an essential move to protect Lebanon's stability. Assad made the call during a meeting in Damascus last Thursday with Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader MP Walid Jumblat. (See MER 10/6/2011.) Despite the withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon in April 2005 following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Syria still wields great influence in Lebanon through the March 8 alliance.

Significantly, Assad, who is fighting a serious challenge to his 11-year rule from a nationwide popular uprising, was the first Arab leader to telephone Suleiman and Berri to congratulate them on the Cabinet's formation. During the phone conversation, Suleiman hoped stability and calm would return to Syria as soon as possible, according to a statement released by the president's office.

AN NAHAR newspaper, which is close to the March 14 coalition, said the "clearest Syrian sponsorship" of the government's birth was reflected in Assad calling Suleiman minutes after the Cabinet formation decrees were announced from the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut.

The leftist daily AS SAFIR, which is close to Hizbullah, said Assad's rush to congratulate Suleiman and Berri sent "a clear signal of the positive Syrian response to the formation of the government in Lebanon."

The Cabinet's formation raised questions over the "secret formula" which had accelerated the government's birth, especially the "Shiite concession" of the sixth Shiite portfolio, and over whether Assad's congratulation was meant to send messages to regional and international powers, AS SAFIR said. Quoting "well-informed sources," the paper said what happened Monday was linked to last Wednesday's meeting at Berri's office in Parliament where the basis for the government's creation was laid.

Breaking with the tradition of an equal distribution of portfolios between the Sunnis, Shiites and Maronites in line with the 1989 Arab-brokered Taif Accord which ended the 1975-90 civil war, the new Cabinet includes five Shiite ministers instead of the usual six in a 30-member government. The extra Shiite seat went to the Sunnis who got seven portfolios. Berri said he ceded a Shiite Cabinet seat from his three-seat share to help break the deadlock over the representation of the former Sunni opposition by Faisal Karami, son of former Prime Minister Omar Karami.

"In the end, I have lost a minister but I have won Lebanon. Nothing more, nothing less," AN NAHAR quoted Berri as saying. Berri got two portfolios, the Foreign Affairs and Health Ministries.


However, the new government suffered its first setback shortly after its formation was announced in a presidential decree read by Cabinet Secretary-General Suheil Bouji at the Baabda Palace. Aley MP Talal Arslan, head of the Lebanese Democratic Party and part of the March 8 alliance, said he was resigning his post as a minister of state to express his dissatisfaction over the portfolio. Arslan had demanded the Defense Ministry portfolio. His resignation was not expected to bring down the government during the Parliament's vote of confidence since his parliamentary bloc has only two MPs. (See below.)

Biggest Winner

A breakdown of the Cabinet lineup shows that Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun emerged as the biggest winner, with 10 portfolios with his allies, including the Energy, Telecommunications and Justice Ministries, followed by Mikati with six portfolios. Suleiman received three ministers, including the Interior Ministry. Hizbullah retained the Agriculture and Administrative Reform Ministries.

Although Hizbullah and its March 8 allies have a majority in the new Cabinet - 18 seats - Mikati reassured the Lebanese and the world that his government would not place Lebanon in a confrontation with the international community.

"The fact that Hizbullah and its allies have 18 seats in the 30-member Cabinet does not mean that the country will join the radical camp in terms of its relations with the international community," Mikati told AFP shortly after announcing his government lineup.

He said it was significant that more than one-third - 12 - of the Cabinet ministers were appointed by himself, the president and Jumblat, thus ensuring Hizbullah and its allies could not control the government.

U.S. Comment

Meanwhile, the United States said it will judge the new Lebanese government by its actions. "We'll judge it by its actions," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday. "What's important in our mind is that the new Lebanese government abides by the Lebanese Constitution, that it renounces violence, including efforts to exact retribution against former government officials, and lives up to all its international obligations." Toner urged the Lebanese government to support the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is probing the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

March 14 Comment

A senior source in the March 14 coalition described Mikati's Cabinet as "a government of Hizbullah and a government of confrontation," AN NAHAR reported. It quoted the unnamed source as saying that the Cabinet's formation was linked to "the critical situation through which Syria is passing."

The paper quoted sources in Hariri's Future Movement as saying that the new Cabinet was "a government of Jisr al- Shughour and a government of confrontation in the interior." Jisr al-Shughour is a Syrian town near the border with Turkey whose residents have fled to Turkey fearing a brutal crackdown by Syrian troops on anti-regime protesters.

The Christian right-wing Phalange Party's Political Bureau said Mikati's one-sided government was unable to confront developments. "It is a crisis plan rather than a solution plan," the party said in a statement published by AN NAHAR.

Mikati's Pledge

Although the new Cabinet is viewed as one-sided because it excluded the March 14 parties who had decided to boycott it, Mikati pledged that his government would work for all the Lebanese without discrimination.

"The motto of this government is 'all for the country, all for work' ... This government will be a government for all of Lebanon. It will work for all the Lebanese without differentiation or discrimination between those who grant it confidence or those who withhold it," Mikati told reporters at the Baabda Palace after the announcement of the Cabinet lineup. His remarks were published by AN NAHAR and other newspapers on Tuesday.

He said once the government has gained Parliament's vote of confidence, "it will go to work immediately according to the basis and principles to which we have affirmed our commitment several times, the most important of which is adherence to the full implementation of the Taif Constitution, defending Lebanon's sovereignty and its independence and liberating land that remains under the occupation of the Israeli enemy." (See below.)

Mikati said his government would seek to maintain strong ties with all Arab countries and respect its Arab and international commitments - a clear reference to the STL and U.N. Security Council resolutions. Urging the Lebanese to give his government a chance, Mikati said: "Do not judge intentions and people, but rather actions."

The government will hold its first session Wednesday after a commemorative photograph of its members at the Baabda Palace. Once it has drafted its policy statement, the government will go to Parliament to seek a vote of confidence based on its policy statement.

The Following is the List of the New Government as Published by AN NAHAR and others dailies on Tuesday:

Prime Minister Najib Mikati

Deputy Prime Minister Samir Mokbel

Minister of Finance Mohammad Safadi

Minister of Education Hassan Diab

Minister of Environment Nazim Khoury

Minister of Information Walid Daouk

Minister of State Ali Kanso

Minister of State Talal Arslan

Minister of Economy Nicolas Nahhas

Minister of the Displaced Alaaeddine Terro

Minister of Public Works Ghazi Aridi

Minister of State Nicholas Fattoush

Minister of Justice Shakib Kortbawi

Minister of Culture Gaby Layyoun

Minister of Labor Charbel Nahhas

Minister of Social Affairs Wael Abu Faour

Minister of Telecoms Nicolas Sehnawi

Minister of Tourism Fadi Abboud

Minister of Industry Vrej Saboujian

Minister of Energy Gibran Bassil

Minister of Foreign Affairs Adnan Mansour

Minister of Health Ali Hassan Khalil

Minister of Sports and Youth Faisal Karami

Minister of Agriculture Hussein Hajj Hassan

Minister of State Mohammad Fneish

Minister of Interior Marwan Charbel

Minister of Defense Fayez Ghosn

Minister of State Salim Karam

Minister of State Ahmad Karami

Minister of State Panos Manjian
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Publication:The Daily Middle East Reporter (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Jun 14, 2011
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