Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 July 2019

Is unity on the way for Lebanon?

A new government is a step in the right direction but there is still much work to do
Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. Dalati Nohra / EPA
Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. Dalati Nohra / EPA

After years of turmoil and uncertainty, Lebanon appears to be on the path towards national unity. President Michel Aoun announced on Sunday that the country had formed a new 30-member unity government to be led by prime minister Saad Hariri with representation from most political parties, including Hizbollah. The Phalangist party, however, declined to take part in the new government in a sign of the work that lies ahead for the parliament.

Lebanon’s political process has been anything but stable in recent years. Aside from the chaos spilling over from Syria that has resulted in large streams of refugees, the country’s political leadership has been scattered. In October, former military chief and Christian politician Mr Aoun was sworn in as president after a bitter deadlock. The level of political infighting was so high that it took more than 45 sessions of parliament to elect a new president.

Despite that absence of the Phalangist party, which wields considerable influence and ability to derail government initiatives, there are some signs that the new unity government will address Lebanon’s significant challenges. Among the new portfolios will be an anti-corruption post and a minister of state for women’s affairs. But the real issue is Syria and how to handle the refugee crisis that is destabilising the country from within.

If there is any hope for productive legislation in the near future, the unity government will have to address the power play between Mr Hariri and Hizbollah, an Iranian proxy force with powerful military capability. With parliamentary elections planned for May, Mr Hariri will use the new government to demonstrate the critical role that he continues to fill in the parliament. But political deadlock is never far away from Lebanese politics and the absence of concrete reform could translate poorly at the polls. As we have seen this year, however, much can happen in the space of five months – especially in a country divided across sectarian lines sharing a long border with Syria.

Updated: December 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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