Aoun and Mikati sign decree to form new Lebanese government

Lebanon has been under a caretaker government for more than year

Lebanese President Michel Aoun announced the formation of a government on Friday afternoon, ending 13 months of caretaker governance.

The agreement over a Cabinet line-up headed by telecoms billionaire Najib Mikati as prime minister, came after weeks of wrangling over the distribution of government ministries between Lebanon’s various political parties.

Mr Mikati cut an emotional figure as he announced the government formation after a meeting with President Michel Aoun and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri at the Baabda Palace.

In his speech, Mr Mikati vowed to hold next year’s elections on time and promised a “governmental plan to rescue the country”.

He declared the end of Lebanon’s expensive blanket subsidy programme. “There’s no money for us to keep subsidies,” he said. The street value of the Lebanese lira surged to 15,600 to the dollar upon the announcement of the government. In recent weeks it had plummeted as low as 22,000.

Mr Mikati asked the Lebanese people to "fasten their seatbelts" because the nation was "in a state of an emergency landing".

Appearing to hold back tears, he said the new government would work until the end of the current parliament's term in May and then hold elections.

"We must hold elections on time, that is my intention," he said.

Mr Mikati addressed the growing hardships of the country over the course of the past year and said "there will be a governmental plan to rescue the country".

Former Lebanese ambassador to the United States Abdullah Bouhabib was named foreign minister, with central bank official Youssef Khalil announced as finance minister. Firas Abiad, the head of Rafiq Hariri University Hospital and one of the country’s most prominent figures in Lebanon’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, was announced as health minister.

Bassam Al Mawlawi, a nominee of former prime minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, was named interior minister. Charge of the interior ministry, which will have oversight of next year’s elections, was one of the most viciously contested seats in government negotiations.

Only one woman features in the Cabinet – Najla Riachi, Lebanon’s former representative to the United Nations, who was named as minister of state for Administrative Development Affairs.

Lina Khatib, director of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa programme, said the cabinet would only placate those who were desperate to see a government of any shape formed, and that those looking for significant reform would likely be left disappointed.

“Lebanon’s new government will not convince the international community it is serious about reform, but is likely to still be acceptable to Western countries whose main concern has been political vacuum in Lebanon and who have been eager to see a government form even if many of its faces are familiar,” she told The National.

Ms Khatib added that civil society groups were the biggest losers, while the Iran-backed Hezbollah would likely consider the cabinet line up a success.

“The cabinet would not have been formed without Hezbollah’s blessing. Hezbollah holds significant sway over the government through the presence of its own ministers and those from allied parties as well as through the relative weakness of representation from its rival parties.

"The biggest losers in this cabinet line up are pro-reform independent political parties and groups, who are effectively without a seat at the table”.

Mr Hariri welcomed the formation of Mr Mikati's government, calling for all support to help him "in the vital mission to stop the collapse and launch reforms".

The government of Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of the Beirut port explosion last August, leaving the country with a caretaker government as it battled a cascade of economic crises. Yet efforts to form a new administration floundered as three prime ministers designate took turns in attempting to agree a Cabinet line-up with President Aoun – Mustafa Adib, Mr Hariri and finally Mr Mikati.

Mr Mikati, also a former prime minister, was put forward as a candidate after Mr Hariri’s resignation on July 15.

"The government is the best that can be reached, and it is able to work, and our concerns lie in the priority of solving people's current problems, and we have great responsibilities, and we must work to get out of the current crisis," Mr Aoun later told journalists.

Updated: September 10th 2021, 4:18 PM
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