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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Goodbye Ketchup, Hello Sriracha!

    How immigrants are triggering a great transformation in American cuisine

    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.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora