330 days. I wanted to write 11 months, but it surprisingly seemed so normal, so I decided to count the days since Mikati resigned. It took the politicians 330 days to form a cabinet. Just to make it clear, it usually takes 0, 3, 30 or 33 days to form one. But no, it had to be 330 days. 330.
But that’s ok, it’s not even like we missed important events. Only democratic parliamentary elections, an electoral law, laws and democracy in general, oh and everything related to governing a country. But then again, that’s ok, because instead, we got a Syrian spillover, burned books, suicide bombers and a new local record in forming governments (yep, Salam broke Rachid Karami’s record of 1969 – Tamam, right?).
Anyway, enough nagging, and here’s a small analysis.
The Two Surprises
I know it’s a very long time ago, but let’s rewind 11 months. Tammam Salam was nominated as M14’s candidate to the premiership, and in order to to prevent Jumblatt from shifting back to M14, and M14 from taking power again, M8 made a brilliant move and decided to endorse Tammam Salam. The “If you can’t beat them, join them” policy resulted in 8 to 9 months of political confusion. M14 didn’t risk forming a government without M8. When M8 shocked everyone again in January and declared that they were ready to join M14 in an 8-8-8 cabinet lineup, Future Movement found their way out of the impasse: It would apparently seem that M8 gave up the blocking third and lost the battle, and at the same time, M14 wouldn’t be angering Hezbollah.
A Quick Look At The Names
Change and reform bloc : Gebran Bassil (FPM) for the foreign ministry, Elias Abou Saab (FPM) for the education ministry, Arthur Nazarian (Tachnag) for the energy ministry, Rony Araiji (Marada) for the culture ministry.
Hezbollah: Hussein Hajj Hassan for the ministry of industry, Mohamad Fneish as a minister of state.
Amal: Ali Hassan Khalil for the ministry of finance, Ghazi Zaiter for the ministry of public works and transports.
PSP: Wael Abou Faour for the ministry of public health, Akram Chehayyeb for minsitry of agriculture.
Presidential share: Samir Mokbel as minister of defense and vice-PM, Alice Chabtini as minister of the displaced, Abdel Motleb Hannawi as minister of sports.
PM’s share: Tammam Salam as prime minister, Mohamad Machnouk as minister of environment.
Future Movement: Ashraf Rifi for the justice ministry, Nohad Machnouk for the interior ministry, Rachid Derbas for the ministry of social affairs, Nabil De Freij as minister of state for administrative reform (yes, apparently such a ministry exists).
Kataeb: Sejaan Kazzi for the ministry of labor, Alain Hakim for the ministry of economy, Ramzi Jreij for the ministry of information.
M14 independent Christians: Michel Faraoun for the ministry of tourism, Boutros Hareb for the ministry of telecommunications.
A total of 4 ministers for the FM, 4 for the FPM bloc, 3 for the Kataeb, 2.5 for the president ( apparently Abdel Motleb Hannawi is more of a consensual candidate between Berri and Sleiman), 2.5 for Amal, 2 for Hezbollah, 2 for the PM, 2 for the PSP and 2 for the M14 independent Christians.
Although it might seem at first that this is an all-embracing cabinet where centrists, M8, and M14 have equal shares of 8 seats, it’s not actually an 8-8-8 cabinet. Technically, M8 didn’t give up the blocking third, since Jumblat is now more or less considered to be part of the M8 sphere. Also technically, M14 are controlling the majority in the government since the president hasn’t quite been a Hezbollah fan for the past 6 months and most importantly because Tammam Salam – just as a reminder- is Future Movement’s Beirut Member of the parliament more than he is a centrist.
Also, this is very weird, but M14 didn’t actually get 8 ministers: The FM has 4, the Kataeb 3, and the M14 independents 2. A total of 9 ministers, not 8 (hence an exception to the 8-8-8 accord). But this can be explained by the fact that Hezbollah was trying to make it up for the FM (because of the rejection of Rifi as interior minister). Also Hezbollah shouldn’t care a lot since the two PSP ministers and Abdel Motleb Hannawi are likely to be closer to M8, which means that the 8-8-8 government formula eventually turned out to be a 9-8-7 one – or to be more realistic, a 13-11 one (If you count Hannawi and the PSP ministers as M8 ministers)
Did The Kataeb Just Win The Lottery?
With approximately 5 members out of 128 in the parliament (3.90%), the Kataeb are receiving 3 out of 24 seats in the cabinet (12.5%). That’s not all: They received the key economic ministries; the economy and labor ministries. The official spokesman of the government (information ministry) is also apparently an FM/Kataeb consensual candidate. So why are they being treated so well? Because the FM needed to reward them twice: The first time for accepting to extend the term of the parliament in June, and the second time for entering the government when the Lebanese Forces boycotted it against the will of the FM. The FM also needs to spoil them for two other reasons: The first one is to create tension between them and the LF ahead of the presidential elections by giving them an unreasonable share and throwing – even if it’s in an indirect way – the Lebanese Forces outside. It would hence look as if the FM have a more “docile” Christian ally that is also representative of the Christian community. It would also give the impression that the FM is not hijacking Christian ministries anymore – like the Aounist propaganda says. The other reason of allocating the 3 ministries to the Kataeb is to deny the FPM the courtesy of being the most important Christian party in the cabinet. If you haven’t noticed, there are only 2 pure Aounists in the government (the two others belong to the aounist allies, Marada and Tachnag), while there are actually 3 Kataeb in the cabinet. The kataeb – believe it or not – somehow suddenly became the second biggest party represented in the cabinet and the biggest Christian one.
2.5,3,3.5 or 4 Seats For The President?
When I counted the number of ministries for the first time, I found 25 seats, not 24. So I counted again, and again, and again, until I realised something very important: Even though the president has 3 ministries (I did not count Hannawi), he has 2 ministers (Samir Mokbel has two portfolios but votes once). So basically, the president gets a big share of ministries – the biggest he ever had – but with only two ministries. Because theoretically the president has 4 portfolios: A sovereign one (Defense), a prestigious one (VP of the PM), and two minor ones. But when the time comes, Hannawi will probably side with Nabih Berri while Samir Mokbel – even though he has two ministries – can only vote once.
By giving the president a big share of ministries but a small voting power, the political class is strengthening the centrist president but at the same time denying him too much decisive voting power that might influence the post-Sleiman era in case the parliament fails to elect a president.
Bassil And Rifi: Equality?
If you take a quick look at the names of the new ministers, you notice two separate things: Gebran Bassil is there, and so is Ashraf Rifi. But Rifi is not interior minister, and Bassil is not energy minister. Interestingly enough, Rifi is for the FPM what Bassil is for the FM: The most annoying politician of the rival party. So if you think of it this way, there’s some kind of an undeclared compromise: Both politicians get to stay in the cabinet, but both don’t get what they want. Bassil is not energy minister and Rifi is not interior minister.
Speaking of the growing number of military men getting involved in Lebanese politics, we have two newcomers: Abdel Motleb Hannawi and Ashraf Rifi.
Amal got two ministries, including the very important finance ministry. There were always talks that the finance minister according to Taef should belong to the Shia community- since the finance minister signs all the decrees along with the Christian president and the Sunni PM – and Berri managed to secure the post for one of his protégés. For the change and reform bloc, they got to keep the strategic energy ministry – even though it’s with the Tachnag now, like the 2008 cabinet – while Bassil is now the number 2 man in the cabinet, holding the foreign ministry. The FPM did not only receive a sovereign portfolio (foreign ministry) for the first time in the history of all embracing cabinets: The minister of education is also a member of the FPM and a Christian party member for the first time since ages. Even though Hezbollah only has one portfolio (but two votes since there’s a minister of state that is pro-Hezbollah) they got what they wanted: They weren’t forced out of the cabinet, they control the blocking third (via Jumblatt) in the government, and they pleased their allies ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections – hence making a potential FM-FPM alliance harder.
The FM got 4 seats (+ Salam’s 2). So there shouldn’t be too much Hezbollah weight in the cabinet while at the same time the FM would be running the interior ministry again. The M14 independents- Boutros Hareb and Michel Faraoun are also supposed to be close to the FM, giving the party a more or less share of 8/9 ministers (4+Salam’s 2+Hareb+Faraoun+ the Kataeb/FM consensual information minister) out of 24. They also managed to please the Christian minorities by naming a Roman Catholic (Latin) Christian as a minister (They rarely get represented).
Walid Jumblatt, by making sure that the coalitions stayed the same and that his Kingmaker position in the center was hence still secure, also won from the formation of this new government.
So who won? Everybody won – except the Lebanese Forces qui désormais boudent tout seuls dans l’opposition.
Mikati’s resignation happened the day after mother’s day, while the government was formed the day after valentine’s day. That is obviously why they waited for 330 days: They care about our feelings.