News / Middle East

New Lebanese Prime Minister Unlikely to Alter Policy

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati

Lebanon has a new prime minister who came to power at the end of January with a majority of votes from legislators in the country’s Hezbollah-led opposition.  Questions remain about the composition of Najib Mikati’s Cabinet, and whether it will deviate from the previous government's pro-Western policies, but analysts see no dramatic shifts, at least in the short term.

By all accounts, Najib Mikati is a moderate Sunni Muslim with a Western education and ties to the global business community.  But he is also a man brought to power by the votes of parliamentarians allied with Syria and Iran.  Some observers worry that he will reverse the pro-Western path Lebanon has taken since Syrian troops withdrew from the country in 2005 and return to one set by Damascus and even Tehran.

A political science professor at Lebanese American University, Bassel Salloukh, says such fears of Hezbollah’s influence in Mr. Mikati’s government are overblown.

“I think whether coming from Israel or from Washington, this rhetoric about Hezbollah's hegemony and so on is exaggerated.  Hezbollah’s military position in the country does not change with Mikati's government.  I think part of this is just an attempt to put pressure on Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon,” Salloukh said.

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Center in Beirut, notes that Hezbollah had veto power in the previous government.  He says now that Hezbollah has become part of the majority it is more aware of sensitivities surrounding it and will probably not have any of its members in the new Cabinet.

“Hezbollah is feeling more secure that they have a government which is not hostile to them, so they feel less the need to be confrontational or break dramatically with the tribunal and so on, now that they have a government which they feel is not out to get them,”  he said.

The tribunal is the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  Leaks from the court in The Hague have indicated that members of Hezbollah may be implicated in Mr. Hariri’s murder.  Hezbollah, in turn, has demanded that Lebanon cease all cooperation with the tribunal.  It was this disagreement with Prime Minister Saad Hariri that led Hezbollah to withdraw its ministers from his Cabinet, forcing his government to collapse.

Professor Salloukh says Lebanon’s foreign policy is generally more reactive than pro-active, and subject to the situation in the complicated neighborhood where it lives.

“In terms of Lebanon's foreign policy, alas, Lebanon today is such a weak country that it really does not have pro-active foreign policy.  It tries to maneuver through different foreign-policy challenges," Salloukh said.  "But as such itself does not really have a kind of pro-active foreign policy.  Lebanon’s foreign policy for the foreseeable future will remain a consequence of the geopolitical struggles among its neighbors and regional and international actors.”

Those neighbors include Syria, which had a military presence in the country for 30 years, ending only in 2005; and Israel, with which Lebanon is in an official state of war.

Paul Salem says Israel and Hezbollah may be on a collision course, but it will not be brought to a head over the Shi'ite group’s possible participation or influence in the new government.

“It has much more to do with the timetable between Israel and Iran over the nuclear issue, and Israel’s perception of threat along that axis,” he said.

On the international front, Prime Minister Mikati has said that he wants good relations with the United States.  But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently that “a Hezbollah-controlled government would clearly have an impact” on Washington’s relationship with Beirut.

Washington lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and U.S. officials have said its growing influence could impact the nearly $250 million in annual economic and military aid Washington gives Lebanon.

But overall, observers say that for now Beirut will most likely maintain the status quo in its international relations, avoiding decisions that could move the country in a direction that would isolate it internationally, see it sanctioned or lose international aid.

“If a Hezbollah-backed government ratchets up the control in serious ways, we may see a negative reaction abroad regarding aid, regarding assistance, especially to the Lebanese Armed Forces,” said Mohammad Chattah, a senior adviser to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. “On the other hand, frankly, I do not think that is what we are going to see in the government.  I think having brought Prime Minister Mikati to power as prime minister, I think at least for the time being, there will be an attempt to show continuation of the status quo on these matters.”

Paul Salem of Carnegie agrees that trend will extend through the near term, in part because of the uprising in Egypt.

“The balance of power in the region is shifting, not in favor of sort of U.S. allies, and that also affects the balance of power in Lebanon,” he said. “But probably without dramatic effect, because the Lebanese government will try to not break relations with any major players in the region or the world.”

Lebanese American University Professor Bassel Salloukh sums it up, saying there has been a geopolitical reshuffling of the deck, and observers will now have to wait to see if that has changed the international and regional contest over Lebanon.

You May Like

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Pushes Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs