Lebanon finally has a government

It's official. Five months after Lebanon's parliamentary elections, the country's squabbling factions have finally formed a government.

After winning a parliamentary majority in June, the US-backed March 14 coalition has struggled to form a national unity government with the Hezballah-led opposition.

Lebanon's political heavyweights had agreed soon after the elections on a cabinet formation that respected the country's delicate sectarian balance, and ensured opposition parties were not excluded from the decision-making process.

The cabinet includes 30 ministers, 15 from the ruling coalition, 10 the opposition, and 5 selected by President Michel Suleiman as a neutral buffer.

Obviously, this was all easier said than done. In reality, squeezing in over 10 political factions – each of whom vying for a greater share of government portfolios and influential ministries – proved more difficult than one could imagine.

Political wrangling over the seats of power is a trademark of Lebanese politics, and thus, the Lebanese blogosphere expressed little shock throughout the five month saga.

Nevertheless, having endured nearly half a year of a government-less state, Lebanese bloggers were understandably relieved, but remain cautious about its prospects.

And rightly so, as signs of tension within the two-day-old government were picked up by the blogosphere as soon as its formation had been deemed official.

March 14 ally, the right-wing Christian Phalangist Party (al'Kata'eb in Arabic), responded to its sole ministry post of Social Affairs with anger, threatening to unravel the new government line-up.

In his analysis of the Phalangist fallout, Lebanese political blogger Elias Muhanna senses a shift in alliances, Qifa Nabki:

On the one hand, I can understand the frustration: Social Affairs is a pretty lousy ministry, especially given the fact that the Lebanese Forces (another Christian ally of March 14 with more or less the same parliamentary weight as the Kata’eb) was given two portfolios in the new cabinet, one of them the highly visible Ministry of Justice.

[Phalangist] Sami Gemayel had been calling publicly for the Education Ministry earlier last week, presumably so that it would look like [Prime Minister Saad] Hariri gave them what they were demanding, were he only to give them one seat. But to dump them with Social Affairs alone looks like a snub.

Muhanna continues by declaring the March 14 versus March 8 rivalry dead:

Here’s a guess [for Hariri's snub of the Phalangists]. As we’ve said before, the era of the March 14-March 8 rivalry is over. It died, more or less, on the day after the election, and [PSP and Druze leader Walid] Jumblatt’s decision to drop out of Hariri’s coalition was the final nail in the coffin. The March 14 coalition, or what’s left of it, doesn’t command a majority in parliament, so what’s the point of trying to maintain it anymore?

If Hariri wants to be able to govern effectively, he needs to build a new coalition. Or, at least, he needs to re-build the kinds of partnerships that his father constructed and manipulated so masterfully, reaching across the aisle to court erstwhile opponents like Hezbollah, AMAL, and the FPM. Those are the parties with the real clout in their communities and the seats in parliament. If I had to guess, this is more or less what’s in the back of the young PM’s mind.

Left-leaning As'ad Abu Khalil at the Angry Arab blog conducted an overview of the elected ministers, but remained adamant that the cabinet will not solve any of Lebanon's woes:

So there is a new Lebanese cabinet. Nothing new. Lebanon was and will be always on the verge of civil war, even if it does not descend into civil war. The cabinet will not solve a thing.

Ghassan Karam from Rational Republic offers an equally pessimistic outlook, alleging that the government is simply a mini-parliament:

From here on the Lebanese cabinets are to be formed according to the newly established principle; each parliamentary bloc will be represented in the executive branch of government according to its share of parliamentary seats.

Goodbye democracy and welcome to the unworkable hybrid where many will be and not be at the same time. They will function as opposition and yet change their fedoras, whenever it suits them to become part of the government that they oppose. Thank you March 14, for driving in the final nail into the coffin of the Cedar revolution and the aspirations that it gave rise to.

Harsh criticism is given in an interesting commentary titled “Contradictions” on the French language blog, Le Liban:

Sitôt formé, le gouvernement d’union nationale se démène déjà dans ces problèmes.

Non pas dans les problèmes quotidiens des libanais, problèmes sociaux comme l’appauvrissement de la population, économiques comme la crise dans laquelle se démène l’industrie locale ou politiques locaux et régionaux comme les menaces israéliennes et la guerre prévue pour le printemps prochain, mais dans les propres contradictions de la majorité parlementaire avec les menaces de retrait des partis phalangistes.

As soon as it was formed, the national unity government found itself struggling with problems.Not with the daily problems of the Lebanese people; nor the social problems such as the impoverishment of the population; nor economic problems such as the crisis that has local industry struggling; nor local political or regional issues such as Israel's threat to launch a war next Spring, but in the contradictions of the parliamentary majority with threats of withdrawal by the Phalangist Party.

Twitter response

Several Lebanese bloggers on Twitter also engaged in ridiculing and expressing frustration at Lebanon's political elite.

Alexandra Tohme (Twitter alias alexzawya) drew up a mock counter Lebanese Government made up of “Twit-Ministers”:

Yesterday was a rollercoaster of emotions. The announcement that a cabinet had been formed 5 months after elections had me singing from the balcony, a few hours later and breakaway parties threatened to destabilize the whole thing.

I tossed and turned.  I fretted. I ate chocolate cake. In this day and age, I thought, we no longer have to be at the mercy of delayed talks, stalling tactics and idle bickering whilst the world moves on. What we need, is a quickly assembled alternative cabinet that can be swiftly deployed in the event of war, acts of god (or gods), government strike or overly long lunch breaks.

Samia Badih (Twitter alias samiaonthemove) revealed her disappointment with the following tweets:

Why is any war criminal still in Lebanese government?

What a joke! How is this guy the Minister of Culture? http://tinyurl.com/ylfl8ms #Lebanese #Government #Shootmenow

Philippe Kalaf (Twitter alias planetlebanon) ridiculed the government as being headed by clowns:

Kataeb aren't happy, they want to quit the cabinet (Sayegh from social affairs) and break alliance with M14. Country run by clowns…

Someone should make a map of the most “profitable” (for ministers of course) ministries in Lebanon. It would help explain the happy/sad ppl

The Lebanese blogosphere's deriding response to the government formation signals a clear disconnect between Lebanon's political elite and those underneath it who can only see a comedy show ahead of them.


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