Lebanon announces new government line up
By Tamer Abu Zaid in Beirut
After an eight-month deadlock over political wrangling, Lebanese Prime Minister designate Saad al-Hariri on Thursday (January 31st) announced a government line up.
Lebanese politicians had previously accused Hizbullah of blocking the formation of a new government by manufacturing an impasse, demanding that six Sunni lawmakers from the March 8th bloc be represented in the future cabinet.
The new cabinet, unveiled during a press conference at the presidential palace, includes 30 ministers from Lebanon's rival political clans.
The new line up is to see four women take up office, including at the head of the interior and energy ministries.
Last-minute contacts and meetings preceded the announcement of formation.
Some of these were announced, while others took place behind closed doors, between Baabda Palace, the official residence of President Michel Aoun, and Beit al-Wasat, al-Hariri's residence.
They included a call between al-Hariri and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea to discuss the government line up.
New line up
Al-Hariri arrived at Baada Palace Thursday and handed Aoun the new government line up. Berri later arrived for a tripartite meeting, after which the the new cabinet was announced.
An initial reading of the new government line up shows Aoun and the Strong Lebanon bloc received 10 portfolios, including foreign minister.
An 11th spot was given to an independent Sunni lawmaker, who is supposed to be part of Aoun's share but is in fact controlled by Hizbullah.
Hizbullah and the Amal Movement received six portfolios; al-Hariri and the Future Movement, five; the Lebanese Forces, four; the Progressive Socialist Party, two; and the Marada Movement, one.
A final portfolio was set aside for an independent minister, to be shared between al-Hariri and Lebanese MP and former prime minister Najib Mikati's Azm party.
The long-awaited government will face a host of political, economic and financial challenges.
"It will have to implement reforms agreed on in the Cedre Conference," al-Hariri confirmed, following the announcement of the new line up, emphasizing "the importance of co-operation between all parties."
The French president welcomed the formation of the new government.
"President Emmanuel Macron reaffirms his commitment to the sovereignty, stability and security of Lebanon, underlining the importance of the policy of dissociation and the fight against terrorism," a statement from the Elysee Palace said.
Announcement met with relief
The Lebanese people received the announcement of the new government with relief. An initial positive reflection was the boosting of Lebanon's US dollar bonds.
All sights are now set on the new government's ministerial declaration, in view of differences over the relation with Syria and Hizbullah's controversial tripartite equation, "army, people and resistance".
"Our position from Hizbullah's weapons is a position of principle, and the saying about the army, people and resistance is no longer valid," Geagea said.
"If weapons are not confined to state control, and if the strategic military and security decision does not return to the state, we will not be able to build this state."
"The initial reading of the new government make-up shows that it complements the previous one, with just a slight difference in the sizes of... blocs," political analyst George Shahin told Al-Mashareq.
"The key political components are the same, though one component may have lost a portfolio and another component may have won one," he said.
"The challenges that will face the government are the same which it inherited from the former government," he added.
"Some of the main portfolios are still in the same hands," he added, noting that the finance ministry is still controlled by Amal, the interior ministry is still in the hands of the Future Movement, and the defence ministry remains with the Free Patriotic Movement.