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

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 Million by January

US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide 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.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid