After a ten month political stalemate, Lebanon’s designated Prime Minister, Tammam Salam, announced the formation of a government of national unity. The announcement was made on Saturday 15 February and on 18 February the newly formed government met for the first time. The 24-member government unites the Shia Hezbollah party, the Sunni Future Movement and the Christian Kataeb party.
Enduring political conflict persists in Lebanon, which makes forming a government very difficult. It took designated Prime Minister Salam for months, starting in April 2013 to bridge the gap between Shia and Sunni politicians. He said: After ten months of efforts, of patience, a government protecting the national interest is born”, “it is a unifying government and the best formula to allow Lebanon to confront challenges”. Only last Friday, 14 February, the negotiations seemed to fail over the portfolio of the interior ministry, but agreement was reached early Saturday morning.
The formation of a government of national unity is seen as a breakthrough. Former president of Lebanon and leader of the Christian Kataeb party, Amin Gemayel, said: “After the formation of this government and the way it has been formed, there is a greater degree of optimism”, “we know that the consensus is delicate and fragile, therefore we are working hard to strengthen this minimum degree that has been achieved, and to turn it into something more stable and long-lasting.
Sunni and Shia struggle
The Shia Hezbollah party and the Sunni Future Movement have been divided over the civil war in Syria. Hezbollah is allied with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and has supported his struggle against the Syrian opposition. The Sunni Future Movement, on the other hand, supports the Syrian opposition against President Al-Assad. To preserve the delicate balance between both parties, a compromise was reached to ensure neither of the parties would gain a government majority.
Also, reporters claim Lebanon is caught in the crossfire between Iran and Saudi-Arabia. They claim that the government would not have come to pass without the approval of both states. Amin Gemayel said Iran was set on improving its relations with Saudi Arabia, which on its turn favors better relations with Iran. It thus seems the future of Lebanon is partly determent by the geo-political developments in the region.
A new President
The forming of a new government averted even deeper political crises. Coming May, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman’s turn in office ends. The Parliament will have to elect a new President, for which it needs a two-thirds quorum. The forming of the government fuels hope that a new president will follow. “There is no presidential election in Lebanon without a minimum degree of consensus” said Amin Gemayel, “It is a difficult mission, but not an impossible one.” Prime Minister Salam expressed the hope that Lebanon would now be ready to hold presidential elections before the mandate of President Suleiman expires.
Lebanon faces numerous problems, most importantly concerning the refugees from Syria. “We must deal with our complicated economic and social issues, the most important of which is the growing number of refugees from our Syrian brothers and the burdens this has placed on Lebanon” said Prime Minster Salam. Also, sectarian violence poses a serious security problem. “I extend my hand to all the leaders and I am relying on their wisdom to reach these goals and I call on all of them together to make concessions in the interest of our national project" concluded Salem.
Author: Koen Migchelbrink