Lebanon Assembles a New Government

Prime Minister Saad Hariri will head the new government after eight months of negotiations. (Wikimedia Commons)

Prime Minister Saad Hariri will head the new government after eight months of negotiations. (Wikimedia Commons)

After eight months of political negotiations, Lebanon has finally assembled a new government, reported Al Jazeera. Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri will head its 30-minister cabinet, which notably includes several Hezbollah allies. Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed Shi’a political party and militant group. During parliamentary elections in May 2018, Hezbollah won a small majority and has since worked to claim head positions in ministries and state institutions, as reported by the Guardian.

The eight-month impasse was largely the result of a power struggle between Hezbollah and competing parties. The Economist notes that this discord reflects broader regional tensions at work. Prime Minister Hariri is a member of the Future bloc, supported by the West and allied with Saudi Arabia. Hariri’s bloc fears that greater political power for Hezbollah in Lebanon would give Iran more influence in the region.

During negotiations, Hariri attempted to prevent Hezbollah from filling the cabinet position allocated to the party. Al Jazeera reports that he eventually compromised, allowing the Hezbollah-backed Hasan Mrad to become minister of state in the cabinet. Hezbollah allies will also fill the ministries of finance, foreign affairs, and health.

Prolonged government uncertainty, however, is not uncommon for Lebanon. According to the Economist, Lebanon has spent nearly 2.5 of the past 13 years without a government. Slow-moving Lebanese politics are a result of the power-sharing agreement on which the government was founded. It aims to proportionally represent each of the country’s 18 religious groups in Parliament. Elected officials must therefore cooperate across sectarian lines to make the cabinet decisions necessary for a new government.

The new government has already begun major political initiatives. Reuters reports that Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil announced economic reforms geared at reducing the national deficit, which is one of the highest in the world. On the international front, Lebanon reaffirmed its policy of “disassociation” with regards to the war in Syria. Despite Lebanon’s official dissociation with the war, Hezbollah has reportedly been fighting along Syrian President Assad for years. Hezbollah’s new political power thus puts Lebanese policy on Syria into question.

Despite initial activity, Time notes that the new government faces serious economic and political challenges. In addition to a deficit worth 155 percent of its GDP, Lebanon is also struggling with an unemployment rate of 32 percent. Moreover, the country has taken on a significant burden of the Syrian refugee crisis. An estimated 1 million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon, straining infrastructure and an already-suffering economy. Discontent over these conditions and a seemingly incompetent government has been intensifying, with protests and strikes seizing the national scene in the final weeks without a government.