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New Government Formed in Lebanon

  • Edward Yeranian

Lebanon's Prime Minister Tammam Salam (C) walks at the presidential palace in Baabda, near Beirut, Feb. 15, 2014.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Tammam Salam (C) walks at the presidential palace in Baabda, near Beirut, Feb. 15, 2014.

Lebanon has announced a new Cabinet that includes a wide range of political groups, breaking months of bitter infighting, mostly over Syria's civil war.

Prime Minister Tamam Salam announced his 24-member national unity government on Saturday.

Parliament had designated the Sunni lawmaker as prime minister in April last year, but rivalries between the Shi'ite Hezbollah-dominated March 8 coalition and the Sunni-led March 14 alliance had prevented Salam from forming a government.

Agreement was reached when the March 14 alliance agreed to withdraw its choice for interior minister after strong opposition from Hezbollah.

The names of the 24 members of the new government were solemnly read aloud in a gesture that left many Lebanese breathing a sigh of relief. The country had been in the hands of a caretaker government for many months, as both major political factions argued over who controlled what.

The incoming prime minister, himself the son of a beloved long-time prime minister, noted in his inaugural message that he had attempted to put together a balanced government in which all parties participated, but without any religious or sectarian quotas.

Members of the new government — some of whom are not on speaking terms — posed for the traditional Cabinet photo at the presidential palace on the stormy winter day.

International agreement

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Cabinet formation, saying the severity of Lebanon's security, humanitarian and economic issues should spur the government to act without delay to address these challenges.

Syria's civil war has spilled over into neighboring Lebanon and sharply divided its population.

Salam said the new Cabinet will have to face the explosive social issue created by nearly a million Syrian refugees fleeing to Lebanon, which has a population of 4 million.

According to Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, formation of the new government despite regional tensions is a sign of international agreement over the need to keep Lebanon out of the conflict raging in Syria, insisting that the new government represents a lowest common denominator with concessions by all sides, including Hezbollah and anti-Syrian parties.

Abou Diab argued that the accord would not have been possible without an international will to spare Lebanon further consequences of the Syrian conflict, and that the agreement is largely the product of intense mediation by both the U.S. and France, which are historic power brokers in the country.

The Cabinet is not expected to remain in office long because a new government is slated to be formed after President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May and a new head of state is elected.

Some analysts have been warning that Lebanon risks facing yet another political abyss if members of parliament are unable to choose a new president. A brutal and bloody war broke out in 1989 in the leadership vacuum created by the inability to elect a new president.

Some information for this report comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.
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