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

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora