Monday Apr 23, 201209:06 AM GMT
Lebanon gov't: role-maker, not role-taker
Najib Mikati, the Prime Minister of Lebanon
Najib Mikati, the Prime Minister of Lebanon
Sat Jun 18, 2011 11:33PM
Author: Seyyed Mohiaddin Sajedi
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The formation of a new government in Lebanon is more of a message to foreign countries that have been affected by Arab uprisings and revolutions than a cause of relief for the Lebanese nation.

Meanwhile, the development will advance Lebanon into a new phase, enabling it to move from a role-taking to a role-making capacity.

Najib Mikati managed to form his government four months after he was designated as Lebanon's Prime Minister. The current administration has 30 ministers, which is too great a number for such a low-population country as Lebanon. The reason for the high number of minister in the administration is the great diversity and plurality of religions and religious sects in the country, among which the incumbent prime minister should consider creating a balance in order for him and his government to succeed.

Delays in government formation in Lebanon are not new. The former administration under the premiership of Saad Hariri demanded five months more to be formed, but what factor helped sort out the problem of government formation in Lebanon this time?

It should be noted that the military, administrative and ministerial posts in Lebanon are distributed on the basis of a tradition inherited from the era of French colonialism in the country. According to this traditional distribution of positions, Christians are usually arranged to receive the lion's share of power, though they do not form the majority of Lebanese population.

Lebanon has remained the last Middle East country with strong Christian characteristics, which is of great significance for the Christian world. Therefore, when a new government is established with 30 ministers, half of them are Christian, of which in turn Maronite Christians constitute the half. The other 15 ministerial posts go to Muslims, though they make up two-thirds of the country's population. The 15 Muslim positions should be allocated equally to Sunni and Shiite ministers, that is, Sunnis and Shiites are assigned 6 ministries each, with the office of the Sunni Prime Minister being counted as a ministerial position in the equation. The rest of ministerial posts are given out to the Druze and at times to the Alawites. It has been a long while since the share of Lebanon's Shiite ministers have been divided between members of Hezbollah and Amal movements.

So far, the Lebanese people have not made a serious movement to confront this rare situation, dubbing it “co-existence,” while some are willing to advocate it as a model for countries with a similar situation, like Iraq. Assembly or consensus democracy in Lebanon often sacrifices, based on prior consensus, the vote of the majority for that of the minority.

The religious and political leaders of Lebanon always wish to secure what they regard as the right of their own faction in the distribution of power. Of course, other differences serve as a cause for delay in government formation, such as the difference over the number of pro-president ministers that should enter the cabinet, or over the ministries that should be allocated to the largest Maronite party, headed by Michel Aoun.

A major problem has been how to distribute so many ministries among so many claimants so as to satisfy everybody. Michel Aoun's party was intent on taking the Ministry of Interior while the president insisted that it be assigned to a figure affiliated with him. Now the problem has apparently been solved by giving the position to a person close to both of them.

There has also been a problem of striking a balance between the northern and central parts of south Lebanon. Nabih Berri, the leader of Amal Movement, forwent his right and accepted to have two ministers in the government, conceding that the third minister could be selected from among the Sunni figures. Therefore, in the cabinet of Najib Mikati, there are 7 Sunni and 5 Shiite ministers.

Nonetheless, it is believed that the four-month crisis over the Lebanese government formation has not been simply due to the distribution of ministerial posts: The main source of the problem once again lies outside of the Lebanese borders. One should note that Syria, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and France have always tried to influence the formation of Lebanon's government and selection of its Prime Minister as well as other ministers. This time yet, the current revolutions in the Arab world have denied them the opportunity to attend to the issue of Lebanon.

Moreover, the assumption of office by the new Lebanese government has ensured Damascus that Lebanon will not turn into a base from which to undermine the Syrian regime. The former Lebanese administration under the premiership of Saad Hariri was accused of providing the opponents of Bashar al-Assad with arms and military equipment. Lebanon's March 14 alliance supports the ongoing revolts in Syria as its media outlets have turned into a key platform broadcasting the news of the Assad opponents.

The Syrian president was the first to extend congratulations to Mikati over the formation of the new Lebanese cabinet. Mikati managed to overcome the hurdles and form his cabinet only days after Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze community, visited Damascus and met with Assad. Despite Jumblatt's uncertainty in recent weeks, does he now believe that he needs Assad's power to establish peace and undertake reforms?

The new Lebanese cabinet is comprised of movements and figures that do not want to call the ongoing situation in Syria a revolution or a popular uprising. Thus, the minority bloc (March 14 Alliance) accused them of forming a pro-Syria government in Lebanon.

Syria wants to send this message to others that it has regained its earlier power and position.
Lebanon has always been a place for passing messages among the governments, and its problems have been solved when these governments reached an agreement with each other.

The formation of the new Lebanese cabinet is a continuation of insisting on resistance through highlighting the need for the deliberation of regions in the south occupied by Israeli forces. It is not clear whether or not the new cabinet will continue the former cabinet's cooperation with the tribunal probing the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

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