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Mikati’s government: far from “Hezbollah backed”, but not quite the outcome the “French initiative” had hoped for

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
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By Julia M.K.

Since the aftermath of the August 4, 2020 port blast that saw the resignation of the interim cabinet of former Prime Minister Hassan Diab one week later, France and America have sought to extend their hand into the new government formation, with the Americans joining in on the pressure to restore a western-friendly administration amidst both powers’ declining influence in the country. 

The main concern of the Lebanese cabinet to them has been not just in its relationship with Hezbollah, but in the impending threat of an economic orientation eastward, which, represented by the previous Diab administration, would have signaled a waning of the US and French economic stronghold on the country. 

According to Beirut-based journalist Mohammad Kleit, the appointment of Mikati to Prime Minister assures the United States that “Lebanon would not be a starting point to rebuild Syria, at least not unsupervised by the Americans and definitely not in favor of the Chinese.”

Kleit adds that France will “benefit a lot” from the new Prime Minister “since he’s close to them and has supported the election of Mostafa Adeeb previously for PM, who was also close to Macron.” He added that the economic proximity between Mikati and France would facilitate French investments as well.

Mikati stated at an addressal at the Baabda palace in June that he intends to “form a government based on the French initiative,” referring to a commitment to a purely technocratic government over a technocratic-political one.

The new 24-person cabinet is composed of bankers and technocrats, many professionally trained or educated in the West or enmeshed in international financial institutions and liberal internationalist organizations.

France is also tied between wanting to maintain its relationship with the Lebanese presidency and civil institutions while backing a hardline stance against Hezbollah, the political ally of Lebanese President Aoun. This played itself out in France’s distinction between Hezbollah’s military wing, which it has been compliant in its designation of such as a “terrorist organization,” and its political wing. 

Two of the picks by Hezbollah and Amal in the new ministry - Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamieh and Abbas Haj Hassan of the Agricultural Ministry - also have French citizenship and have worked and studied in France.

Youssef Khalil, a known participant in the financial engineering of 2016 and former director of Financial Operations of the Central Bank during that time, was appointed to Finance Ministry. President Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, who had objected to this nomination for purely partisan reasons, has been in a bind with both the previous PM Hariri and Speaker of the Parliament for more representation in the government’s ministries, especially amidst Gibran Bassil’s aspirations to the future presidency.

Kleit added that Khalil, who signed a contract with the New York financial audit with Alverez and Marsal last Friday, is a convenient pick for Berri to continue protecting his record of corruption.

Likewise, the interior ministry, given to Hariri appointee Bassam Mawlawi, was a convenient cover-up pick for elites of the Future party, a March-14 aligned party headed by Hariri.

Though Mikati was referred to as ‘a Hezbollah-backed billionaire”, in one Zionist daily, he and his cabinet are far from being a Hezbollah hand-pick. Hezbollah has repeatedly opposed the IMF austerity measures technocrats and tycoons like Mikati are stewards of, such as regressive taxes or strict conditionalities for aid. Furthermore, Mikati said that Hezbollah’s siege-breaking fuel imports were a “violation” of Lebanese sovereignty, and there is little question that the West sees Mikati as a pick still economically as well as politically aligned with them.

Yet the March 8 bloc, which includes Hezbollah and its parliamentary allies, views Mikati as a more “pragmatic choice” than previous prime ministers, according to Syrian journalist Leith Abou Fadel. Mikati’s party, the Azm Movement, also falls under the March 8 bloc.

Unlike Hariri, who “was greatly influenced by foreign nations and refused to compromise on key issues,” Abou Fadel say that Mikati shows a “strong desire for compromise.” 

For Hezbollah, the stakes in the new government are diplomatic, aimed at preventing internal discord instead of partisan rent-seeking. Hezbollah Secretary General Sayed Hassan Nasrallah stressed in his last speech that the party has “always rejected vacuums,” opposing previous government resignations. 

In the interim, Hezbollah still views the formation of government in Lebanon as a prerequisite to internal stability. A government is needed to appoint elected officials, implement economic reforms, and come to decisions on major policy-oriented decisions.

Nonetheless, Hezbollah is well prepared with what the US calls its “parallel institutions,” organizational programs that have developed outside Lebanon’s crumbling structure that cast a wide safety net for many Lebanese, many whose programs, services and resources are being offered to those struggling regardless of political or sectarian affiliation. This includes the Sajjad grocery card, available to any poverty-stricken Lebanese that applies for it, reduced-price al-Nour supermarket in addition to the imports of fuel from Iran that are made free to struggling institutions and communities. Hezbollah recognizes the new cabinet as a diplomatic step forward, but the continuation of neoliberal economics and corruption that the cabinet represents will do little to affect or thwart its resilient social-welfare infrastructure.

The Prime Minister also did not spare worries of sanctions on Lebanon due to the fuel imports occurring “outside of current government institutions.” The group, operating outside of the government to defend the country against invasions and attacks from the Zionist entity, ISIS, and other extremist groups and threats in the past, likewise will maneuver around an institutional framework proven useless to the needs of the Lebanese people for decades to expand its economic support to a population that has witnessed a fast descent into poverty and crisis.

Abou Fadel says that while he doesn’t “expect much from the cabinet or its officials” in terms of economic recovery, Hezbollah’s breaking of the economic siege in the importation of Iranian fuel earlier this month is “unprecedented and has forced western nations that previously dictated the terms of aid to abandon their policies of holding Lebanon hostage through threats of sanctions and the withdrawal of military assistance.”

Aside from two ministers appointed by Hariri and backed by his Future Movement, which include new Health Minister Firass Abaid and Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, and Walid Jumblatt appointee Abbas Halabi to Education Ministry, candidates supported by explicitly anti-Hezbollah parties are largely absent from government, such as Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces, or Samy Gemayel’s Kataeb.

This signals that Hezbollah will likely be at least dealt with from a position and standpoint of relative sovereignty and pragmatic national interest, and that foreign powers such as Saudi Arabia and the US have lost their hold on the Lebanese administrative and political apparatus to the extent that they have in the past. The Zionist entity, Saudi Arabia, and the United States realize there is little can do anything about Hezbollah’s interventions, and the Lebanese government is even in less of a position, and willingness, to oppose them.

 

Julia M.K. is a Beirut-based analyst, writer, and political commentator. Along with regular appearances on PressTV, her work has also appeared in Al-Mayadeen, Al-Akhbar, Mirat al-Jazeera, Counterpunch, and elsewhere.

 

(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)


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