Lebanese New Government & Its Agenda

  • Posted on: 14 March 2019

After eight months of negotiations, Saad Hariri finally formed a new Lebanese government. The Prime Minister will head the new 30-member government and will initiate urgent economic and political reforms. In a recent speech, Hariri stated that the economy will be the government’s main challenge moving forward.

Due to the absence of a government in the past couple of years, Lebanon’s economy declined and deteriorated; The World Bank issued a warning stating that conditional loans and grants worth $11 billion might be redirected if the lack of a Lebanese government persists. According to The Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper, there was an immediate positive effect on the country’s sovereign dollar bonds after the new government formulation.

The Prime Minister stated that it was “time to turn the page,” alluding to the eight-month crisis which was caused by disagreements over the allocation of ministries in the cross-sectarian cabinet. Ali Hassan Khalil of Amal, Hezbollah’s Shiite ally will remain the finance minister while Gebran Bassil of Free Patriotic Movement, another Hezbollah ally, will hold the Foreign Ministry.

The government has become more gender inclusive with four women taking charge of key ministries, including Raya Al-Hasan, who became the first woman to retain the Interior Ministry portfolio. Jamal Jabak, who is affiliated with Hezbollah, became the new health minister despite pressure from the West not to make Hezbollah or its affiliates head the Ministry of Health. Given that the ministry has the fourth largest budget, the U.S. fears that Hezbollah will use the funds to ease financial pressure especially because sanctions on Iran are close to ending due to lack of support.

Hariri wasn’t keen on giving Hezbollah a cabinet position to one of the six Sunnis. However, after much wrangling, the post of minister of state in the new government was ultimately given to Hasan Mrad, the son of MP Abdel-Rahim Mrad. Hariri was negotiating for over eight months and wanted all Sunni ministers to be his followers before finally giving in to a settlement.

Hezbollah’s hold over Lebanon strengthened after the election results in May last year with Hezbollah allies winning the majority of seats. Hariri was only able to secure 17 of the 27 legislative seats allocated to Sunnis. Losing Sunni voters weakened his position as the political leader of the Sunnis in Lebanon.

The new electoral system of proportional representation introduced last year may be to blame for the loss. The current political situation of the region is just a small-scale version of the bigger events flowing in the region and is indicative of the Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry. The fact that Hezbollah is able to even put pressure on Hariri proves that Iran and not Saudi Arabia has more influence in Lebanon. Riyadh tried to strong-arm Hariri by forcing him to resign back in November 2017 but it had no effect on containing Hezbollah’s influence.

Protests have been ongoing in the streets of major cities throughout Lebanon as people demand jobs, better healthcare and an end to corruption. Vicky Khoury, a member of the Sabaa Party, stated that the “first thing now should be to kick off the economic wheel” since “people are concerned about the economic situation and about their basic needs such as free public healthcare, infrastructure, schools.”

Some people found nothing original in the formation of the government but still viewed it as a positive development. One such person is Nasser Yassin, director of research in the American University of Beirut stating “the much-awaited government did not bring any groundbreaking news, neither in most names of ministers nor in the limited shuffling of portfolios.”  However, Yassin believes that “it is a positive development." 

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