13 June 2011

* Lebanese government formation after 5 months

Nearly five months after his appointment, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Monday announced the formation of a 30-member cabinet in which Hezbollah and its allies hold a majority.
 
Mikati, a billionaire Sunni businessman, announced his line-up following arduous negotiations over key portfolios including the justice and telecommunications ministries, now controlled by the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah alliance.

"This government is a government for all Lebanese, no matter what party they support, be it the majority or the opposition," 56-year-old Mikati told a news conference at the presidential palace.

But Lebanon's pro-Western opposition bloc, led by former premier Saad Hariri, has boycotted the new cabinet which it has slammed as a "Hezbollah government."

Mikati's cabinet -- which does not include any women -- has 19 ministers representing the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and its allies.

The remaining 11 were chosen by Mikati, President Michel Sleiman and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

The government must now be approved by at least half of the members of Lebanon's 128-seat parliament, in which the Hezbollah-led alliance has a small majority.

In a sign of simmering discord between Mikati and the Hezbollah alliance, Druze MP Talal Arslan immediately resigned from his post as state minister in the new cabinet, accusing the premier of being a "liar" and of seeking to deprive the minority Druze of key cabinet posts.

One of the main challenges facing the new cabinet will be how to deal with a UN-backed investigation into the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

Hezbollah forced the collapse of the previous government headed by Hariri's son after he refused to disavow the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The Netherlands-based court is widely expected to indict Hezbollah operatives in the killing, a move the militant group has repeatedly warned against.

Since his appointment in January with Hezbollah's blessing, Mikati has declined to spell out whether his government will cease all cooperation with the court.

In a clear sign that he does not expect a smooth road ahead, Mikati on Monday urged the Lebanese people to judge his government by its actions and not its individual members or the parties they represent.

"This government is fully aware that the future is not all rosy and that it will face obstacles, challenges and traps," he said.

A major point of contention in the negotiations over the new line-up was the interior ministry, which will now be headed by retired army general Marwan Charbel, considered close to the president.

The new foreign minister, Adnan Mansour, is a former ambassador to Iran which along with Syria is a major backer of Hezbollah.

The defence ministry is now in the hands of Hezbollah's Christian allies.

Mikati's appointment in January sparked the ire of Lebanon's Sunnis, who are largely loyal to Hariri and saw the move as a bid by Hezbollah to sideline their community.

But Mikati has endeavoured to portray himself as an independent politician and not a Hezbollah puppet.

Under Lebanon's complex power-sharing system, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the president a Maronite Christian and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim.

The first head of state to congratulate Lebanon on the new government's formation was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Damascus was forced to pull its troops out of its smaller neighbour after Hariri's assassination, ending 29 years of military and political domination.

The UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, congratulated Mikati on the new government and said he hoped it uphold "its... commitment to Lebanon's international obligations" in a statement released by Williams' office.

The United States, a major donor to the Lebanese army which blacklists Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, has warned that the formation of a government led by the militant group is likely to affect ties.
 

(iloubnan)

Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.