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Lebanon's Hariri, Hezbollah form new government

Five months after a Western-backed coalition narrowly beat the Hezbollah-led opposition in in Lebanon's June elections, the two sides reached a deal Monday night.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / November 10, 2009

Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman meets with Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri (R) on Monday. Al-Hariri handed in a new national unity government list to Suleiman that includes two ministers from the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

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Beirut, Lebanon

Lebanon's feuding leaders have struck a deal on the formation of a new government – five months after a Western-backed coalition secured a narrow electoral victory against the Hezbollah-led opposition.

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The formation of a national unity government, which includes two members of Hezbollah, could usher in a period of stability for Lebanon as it attempts to chart its way out of five years of political turmoil and bloodshed.

Many challenges remain, however, not least the tensions over Hezbollah's continued armed status, which was highlighted again last week with Israel's seizure of a cargo ship carrying 500 tons of weapons and ammunition allegedly destined for the militant Shiite group. Lebanon also remains caught between regional rivalries and the divergent interests of Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran – factors that analysts say will virtually paralyze foreign-policy decisionmaking by Saad Hariri, the prime minister designate, and his new cabinet.

"There will be a delicate balance in the country," says Sateh Noureddine, columnist for Lebanon's As Safir newspaper. "It will be able to resolve minor issues related to social and economic problems, but will not be able to deal with any big political issues related to Syria, Israel, Iran – anything related to the foreign policy of Lebanon."

'A chance to rise again'

The identities of the 30 new ministers were unveiled Monday night following a meeting between Hariri, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, and Nabih Berri, the parliamentary speaker. The ministerial portfolios were split between the leading political blocs, reflecting their respective shares in parliament.

The March 14 bloc, a coalition of mainly Christians and Sunnis that is supported by the West as well as Saudi Arabia, received 15 seats. The Hezbollah-led parliamentary alliance, which includes mainly Shiites and Christians, was handed 10 seats – two of which went to Hezbollah politicians. The remaining five portfolios were filled by people chosen by the politically neutral president.

"The cabinet will either allow the Lebanese to renew trust in their institutions, or it will lead them to repeat their past failures to achieve consensus," Hariri said. "I know the experiences of the previous phase were not encouraging.... Lebanon almost fell into the unknown, but trust in the Lebanese people's perseverance made us win over strife and give the country the chance to rise again."

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