Few believe that can be done with a government that leaves power in the hands of the same political parties that the public blames for corruption and mismanagement of the country’s resources.
“The biggest winners are the political parties, collectively,” said Maha Yahya, director of Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center. “What is very clear is that it is the epitome of business as usual. Everybody in that Cabinet was named by the political leadership. Some are more competent than others. But the political decision-making is elsewhere.”
After more than a year of bickering among political rivals over the shape of a government, a sudden breakthrough was reported early Friday and the new line-up was announced at the presidential palace.
Experts and politicians say a final nudge to Lebanon’s rival parties to compromise may have come from the country’s equally divided international supporters - the United States, France and Iran - after Lebanon’s economic unraveling reached a critical point that risked a social explosion. Crippling shortages in fuel and medicine threatened to shut down hospitals, bakeries and the country’s internet and caused friction, sometimes violence, in long queues to fill up vehicles.
Mikati, one of Lebanon’s richest businessmen who is returning to the post of prime minister for the third time, sent a message to the tired and exhausted public saying he hears their pain.
Holding back tears, Mikati said he recognized the pain of Lebanese mothers who cannot feed their children or find aspirin to ease their ailments, as well as to students whose parents can no longer afford to send them to school.
“We hope to reach what people want and to at least stop the collapse that is happening,” he told reporters at the presidential palace.
The agreement breaks a 13-month deadlock, one of Lebanon’s longest periods without a fully functioning government at a time when the country was sliding deeper into financial chaos and poverty.
Lebanon’s government resigned after the catastrophic Aug. 4, 2020 explosion at Beirut port, that left more than 200 people killed and the city maimed. The economic meltdown was made worse by the deadlock among rival political groups.
Mikati became a favorite for the post earlier this year after he was endorsed by most of Lebanon’s political parties, including the powerful Iran-backed militant Hezbollah group and the other major Shiite party, Amal, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. He took over from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who abandoned efforts to form a government after eight months after failing to agree with President Michel Aoun on the Cabinet’s makeup.
The power struggle in Lebanon’s sectarian-based system revolved around which group has a blocking vote over policies at a time of much-needed reforms. But it also reflected the growing power of Hezbollah and its allies at the expense of once powerful western-backed Sunni and Christian parties.
U.S senators visited Lebanon earlier this month while a senior State department official spoke to the Lebanese president and Mikati, urging the formation of a government. Separately, French President Emmanuelle Macron called the newly elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who said he supported the formation of a “strong government in Lebanon.”
“The American message was really pushing forward for the government to be formed,” said Alain Aoun, a lawmaker representing the largest Christian block close to the Lebanese president, while the same message came from Iran’s president in a phone call Macron.
Both were messages that recognized the reality on the ground in Lebanon and signaled that support would be forthcoming once a government is formed to stem the rapid collapse, said Salem Zahran, a political analyst.
“This is the best that could happen to Hezbollah,” Zahran said. The group has allies in both the Public Works and Utility ministry— which oversees the airport and port— and the Culture ministry.
Many members of the new Cabinet are experts in their fields. Firas Abiad, director general of the Rafik Hariri University Hospital who has won praise for his transparency in handling the pandemic, was named health minister. A top Central Bank official, Youssef Khalil, was appointed as finance minister, and Bassam Mawlawi, a judge, is the new interior minister.
Yahya, the analyst, said Mikati has an uphill battle with a government that has no common purpose.
“This government is like a shot of morphine. Definitely some money will come in… but this is all short term. The country is still not on any sustainable path to recovery.“
The public was mostly skeptical, although somewhat relieved.
Ali Sharafeddine who owns a company that sells power generators said the new government is no different from previous ones, formed by the same political groups that have ruined Lebanon.
“They're just fooling us,” said the 51-year-old Sharafeddine.
In this photo released by Lebanese government, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with Prime Minister Najib Mikat, at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Sept 10, 2021. Lebanese factions formed a new government on Friday, breaking a 13-month deadlock that saw the country slide deeper into financial chaos and poverty. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Official Government via AP)
Credit: Dalati Nohra
Credit: Dalati Nohra
FILE - In this July 17, 2020 file photo, a woman looks at a homeless Lebanese man sleeping on the ground in Hamra street, in Beirut, Lebanon. Minister of Tourism and Social Affairs Ramzi Moucharafieh said Thursday, Sept 9, 2021, during a news conference, in Beirut that the government will start paying cash assistance next month to hundreds of thousands of poor families - in U.S. dollars - as the small nation sinks deeper into its economic crisis. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
Credit: Hassan Ammar
Credit: Hassan Ammar