After more than 10 months of stalemate and bickering, which is a record by itself, Lebanon has a new government formed of 24 ministers headed by PM Tamam Salam. The new coalition government was announced yesterday after last minute intense negotiations. Although all parties have made compromises to get to where we got, but Hezbollah’s compromises seem more sever.
On the face of it, the new government is supposed to be formed on the basis of the 8-8-8 ratio, which was the crux of the hard negotiations between March 8 and March 14. That is, eight ministers for each March 8 and March 14, and eight ministers for the centrist bloc (Salam, Jumblatt and President Suleiman).
But this is only on paper, and so different to the previous coalition where March 8 got the upper hand. Now March 14 practically seems to have more than the third: three ministers for Kataeb, four ministers for Future movement plus two “independent” ministers who are part of March 14. They are Botrous Harb and Michel Feraoun – which brings the total to solid nine.
Moreover, Tamam Salam and his minister (Mohammad Al-Machnouk) were allied with March 14, which means their total could be 11 ministers.
This shows that Hezbollah has given March 14 the “third plus” of the government which can act as the “blocking minority” i.e. get the cabinet to collapse if they resign.
It is not clear what Hezbollah got in return on this point. I speculate here that the independent Shia minister (Abed Al Muttaleb Hennawi) in the President’s quota could act as an insurance policy to Hezbollah, aka the “King minister”. If push comes to shove, a Shia minister can not face Hezbollah and will ultimately help in bringing the coalition down if needs be.
Hezbollah has made a big compromise by accepting in the new cabinet formation the most extreme anti-Hezbollah figures that can be found in Future movement. That is Nouhad Al-Machnouk and Ashraf Rifi, knowing the that the previous Mikati government collapsed due to the refusal of Hezbollah to extend for Rifi in his Head of General Security position.
Moreover, Al-Machnouk and Rifi were given two of the most sensitive portfolios, especially for Hezbollah, which are Interior and Justice ministries respectively.
Judge Alice Chabtini also got accepted by being given the Displaced portfolio (within the President quota), despite being blocked before by Aoun to lead the Supreme Judiciary Council causing major friction with Suleiman. Chabtini is not a favourite figure for Hezbollah too, as she was known for releasing prominent sentenced Israeli agents from prisons.
March 8 reaction:
Vocal figures of March 8 like Weam Wahhab and Jamil Al-Sayyid have criticised “whoever accepted” such formation i.e. implicitly Hezbollah. They believed that Hezbollah didn’t look after its allies like Future movement did by including the hawks from their side like Rifi.
This got Jamil Al-Sayyid, one of March 8 hawks, to declare yesterday his dissociation with March 8. I note here that Al-Sayyid was always independent from Berri and Hezbollah during his past army and later President Lahoud eras. They never favoured him and probably will continue to unfavour any Shiite voice that doesn’t come their wings.
It is expected for a government to be formed that all parties retract or comprise on their previous positions.
Hariri accepted to be in the new cabinet despite the fact Hezbollah didn’t withdraw militarily from Syria, which was his main demand.
Hezbollah also accepted to sit in Lebanon with a party that alleges it fights in Syria. Hezbollah always accused Future to be backing takfiris and terrorism, and be part of the anti-resistance camp that conspires against them in Syria.
Hence Hezbollah has a lot of convincing to do to its support base. It looks like it has been defeated after 10 months of steadfastness. But who knows what could happen in the upcoming hard-to-agree-on ministerial statement or the imminent presidential elections.
We shall look forward for the next battle…
Photo credit: AFP