Hariri sur­mounts hur­dles to give shape to Le­banon cabi­net


Gulf News - - Region - BY SAMI MOUBAYED Cor­re­spon­dent

In a ma­jor break­through in Le­banon, two key ob­sta­cles have been over­come, paving the way for Prime Min­is­ter­des­ig­nate Sa’ad Hariri to fi­nally an­nounce the cre­ation of his third cabi­net, pos­si­bly to­day or by Fri­day. The first is the is­sue of how the right-wing Chris­tian party Le­banese Forces will be rep­re­sented, and sec­ond is whether or not Sunni politi­cians op­posed to Hariri will get to join his cabi­net.

Ac­cord­ing to sources in Beirut, names are be­ing fi­nalised and last-minute touches are be­ing given by Hariri, who will carry the fi­nal list to Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun, where they will jointly sign the de­cree.

Le­banese Forces

The Le­banese Forces (LF), a pow­er­ful Ma­ronite party, won 15 seats in last May’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tion, al­low­ing them — by norm — to claim one min­is­te­rial post for ev­ery four MPs. LF leader Samir Geagea in­sisted on the post of deputy prime min­is­ter, in ad­di­tion to four sovereignty port­fo­lios. He got the deputy premier­ship, and three rather than four cabi­net seats, none of them sovereignty posts. Geagea said: “The eas­i­est thing for us to do was to stay out of the cabi­net,” adding that there was no such thing as a “rot­ten port­fo­lio”. The main op­po­nents of Geagea’s bloc were mem­bers of the Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment (FPM), headed by Aoun’s son-in-law, Ji­bran Basil. For years, they have been strug­gling against Geagea for lead­er­ship of the Ma­ronite com­mu­nity.

The deputy premier­ship will re­main in the hands of Geagea’s trusted man Gas­san Has­bani. The re­main­ing LF port­fo­lios will go to May Chidiac (Cul­ture), Kamil Abu Su­laiman (Labour), and Richard Kouy­oumjian (So­cial Af­fairs). Chidiac is a tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter who fa­mously sur­vived an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt in 2005, while Abu Su­laiman is a prom­i­nent lawyer, and Kouy­oumjian is a French and US-trained den­tist turned politi­cian.

Gas­san Ha­j­jar, edi­tor of the mass cir­cu­la­tion daily An Na­har told Gulf News: “Dr Geagea tried to philosophise what was essen­tially a loss [not get­ting what he orig­i­nally wanted]. What he did how­ever was ob­struct those try­ing to push him out or govern­ment, into the op­po­si­tion be­cause there is no real op­po­si­tion. He pre­vented the cre­ation of a one colour govern­ment led by Hezbol­lah and its al­lies.”

Aounist Bloc

Cur­rent for­eign min­is­ter Basil will keep his job, in his ca­pac­ity as head of the FPM, while two of his al­lies, Avedis Gi­da­nian and Nada Al Bous­tani will get the min­istries of Tourism and En­ergy, re­spec­tively.

Other Aoun al­lies lined up to the join the cabi­net are Salim Jreis­sati, a re­tired judge, who will be keep­ing his job as Min­is­ter of Jus­tice, and Elias Bu Saab. He is mar­ried to renowned Le­banese singer Ju­lia Boutros. Ques­tions re­main on who will as­sume the min­istry of pres­i­den­tial af­fairs, in­cum­bent Pierre Rafoul or Naji Al Bous­tani. The lat­ter is a for­mer cul­ture min­is­ter, while Rafoul is a se­nior mem­ber of the FPM.

Sunni op­po­si­tion

The last post ear­marked for the pres­i­dent is that of “Min­is­ter of State for Combating Cor­rup­tion.” Hezbol­lah is re­quest­ing that one of its Sunni al­lies in par­lia­ment — prob­a­bly ex-min­is­ter Faisal Karami of Tripoli — is named min­is­ter.

Karami, who heads a bloc of six MPs, is de­mand­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion as leader of the “Sunni Op­po­si­tion”. Hariri has per­sis­tently re­fused to com­ply, claim­ing that Sunni rep­re­sen­ta­tion lies only in the hands of his own Fu­ture Party. To break the grid­lock, Aoun sug­gested giv­ing one of his seats in the cabi­net to Hezbol­lah, thereby keep­ing Hariri’s Sunni bloc in­tact. The FPM ba­si­cally gets to keep all its strate­gic posts, namely de­fence and for­eign af­fairs, sur­ren­der­ing less po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive port­fo­lios like environment, which has gone to the Amal Move­ment that is headed by Par­lia­ment Speaker Nabih Berri.

Amal and Hezbol­lah

The two Shi­ite par­ties, strongly al­lied dur­ing the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, are op­er­at­ing as one bloc in the cabi­net for­ma­tion process. Amal will get to keep Ali Hasan Khalil as min­is­ter of fi­nance, re­plac­ing Gazi Zeiter at the Agri­cul­ture Min­istry with Hus­sam Lakis, a Berri pro­tégé. Its three port­fo­lios will be com­pli­mented by three oth­ers from Hezbol­lah (State Min­istry for Par­lia­men­tary Af­fairs, Health, Youth and Sports).

Druze rep­re­sen­ta­tion

The three re­main­ing Druze seats will go to two al­lies of Walid Jun­blatt, Wael Abou Faour (Ed­u­ca­tion) and Akram Shayeb (In­dus­try). A third post was be­ing con­tested un­til Jun­blatt gave it up in favour of his Druze ri­val Emir Talal Arslan, who will be nam­ing a mem­ber of his team to the job, in ac­cor­dance with Aoun.

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