I’ve written a brief essay for Foreign Policy about the challenges facing the Mikati government, which you can read here. There are a couple of other observations I’d like to make that are too Lebanon-wonky for FP’s audience but may be of interest to regular readers of QN:
Veto politics: Najib Mikati has made a point of saying that while the March 8 coalition holds a majority in his cabinet, they don’t hold a two-thirds-plus-one supermajority. Out of thirty ministers, only eighteen belong to the FPM, Hizbulah, Amal, and their allies, while the remaining twelve are divided among the shares of Mikati, President Suleiman, and Walid Jumblatt. Is it an accident that Jumblatt’s share is just big enough (i.e. three ministers) to give March 8 a supermajority of twenty-one, if push comes to shove? Once again, Jumblatt makes sure he’s the man in the middle.
FPM: Mikati’s cabinet is already being labeled a “Hizbullah government”. This, to my mind, is an oversimplification, given that Hizbullah only holds two ministries (and insignificant ones at that). Of course, cynics will scoff and say that the Hizb doesn’t need ministries to exert its dominance over the cabinet, and that may well be true. But if they don’t need ministries to dominate a cabinet, then what makes the dynamic in this cabinet different from every other time they have held two or three insignificant ministries?
To my mind, what really makes this cabinet different is the considerable haul that the Free Patriotic Movement and its allies in the Change & Reform Bloc were able to net. Think about it: Defense, Justice, Telecoms, Energy, Labor, Tourism, Industry, Culture, plus a couple freebie ministers without portfolio. That’s tremendous, no matter how you spin it. The Aounist movement has never held that kind of power, and you can bet that they are not going to squander this opportunity to consolidate their position and win more supporters. (See here for my profile of the FPM, which dates back to just before the 2009 elections, but in certain ways remains very relevant to the situation the party finds itself in today).
The 2013 elections: The fact that Tripoli has several of her most prominent sons represented in this cabinet has not been lost on anyone. Mikati is clearly making a play to boost his profile as the most popular political figure in Tripoli, which is the first step toward challenging Saad Hariri’s claim to uncontested leadership of Lebanon’s Sunnis. When Mikati was first appointed back in January, he appeared on Marcel Ghanem’s show Kalam al-Nas, and was asked by the host about what he had to say regarding Hariri’s claims that Mikati did not represent the Sunnis. Mikati, who is usually very cool under pressure, exploded into a comical tirade of sectarian one-upsmanship (click here for the YouTube video in Arabic; English translation below):
Mikati: “I don’t accept anyone to question my Sunnism. If there’s a Sunni in Lebanon, it’s me. I won’t accept it! And those who want to hand out certificates (of Sunnism) can go do it on their own. I’m Sunni in belief, Sunni in practice, Sunni in politics, and I’m the number one defender of the Sunnis in Lebanon. If you want to talk about Sunnis, I’m the one with the highest number of Sunni votes. In the ballot boxes of Tripoli, 87% of the Sunnis voted for Najib Miqati, which has never happened in the history of elections in Lebanon. So [whoever is questioning my Sunnism] can get lost, with all my respect for the muftis and who else is concerned with this issue. I’m the number one Sunni in Lebanon!”
Marcel Ghanem: Great. Moving on…
That always cracks me up. I see great potential for some sort of party game…
It should also be noted that the FPM appointed two ministers (Nicholas Sehnaoui and Gabi Layyoun) from tough electoral districts that they lost in the last elections (Achrafieh and Zahle, respectively).