Lebanese Unity Government Toppled; New Hezbollah-backed Prime Minister Elected
January 25, 2011
By: Carlos Aramayo | Printer Friendly
The Lebanese government was toppled after the Islamic militant group Hezbollah and its allies followed through with threats to abandon the national “unity” cabinet. The 14-month-old unity government was a troubled coalition of rivals - a Western-backed bloc led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Shiite group Hezbollah - that was an attempt to stabilize the country. Hezbollah toppled the Hariri government after he refused to reject the UN backed international tribunal findings dealing with the assassination of Rafic Hariri, his father and a former PM. The findings are widely expected to indict members of Hezbollah, which many fear could reignite hostilities between Lebanon's rival Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims.
Following the government's collapse, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman asked Hariri to stay on as caretaker prime minister until a new government was formed. On January 25, President Suleiman appointed Hezbollah-backed candidate Najib Mikati as the country's new prime minister. The appointment has triggered mass protests by Hariri’s supporters around the country.
The newly appointed Mikati is a Sunni billionaire businessman who is known to be a political moderate and a consensus builder. Mikati won the nomination by securing 68 votes in parliament, enough for a majority. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri fell short by only carrying 60 votes of the country's 128-member assembly.
In response, angry Sunnis who support Hariri have staged violent demonstrations across the country including the capital Beirut. Hariri has thanked people for their support but called for restraint, "I understand your emotions ... but this rage should not lead us to what is against our morals, faith and beliefs," he said.
Meanwhile, speaking to reporters moments after his confirmation, Mikati stated he would begin talks to form a “unity” government on Thursday and urged all Lebanese factions to overcome their differences. Mikati’s message stressed the need for peace and said he wanted to represent all of Lebanon. "This is a democratic process, and I want to rescue my country" Mikati told reporters.
During his address to thousands of supporters, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah came out in favor of forming a unity government, stating, "we have supported the nomination of ... Mikati and we call on him to form a national partnership government. The Lebanese have a chance to close ranks." However, Hariri has already stated he will not join any government headed by a Hezbollah-backed candidate.
On January 24, during the State Department daily press briefing, spokesman P.J. Crowley established that, continuing U.S. support for Lebanon would be problematic if Hezbollah takes a dominant role in the government, although he declined to say what the U.S. response would be if Hezbollah's candidate became prime minister. Crowley clarified the U.S. administration position when he stated that, “our view of Hezbollah is very well known. We see it as a terrorist organization and will have great concerns about a government in which Hezbollah plays a leading role.”
Washington has consistently backed Hariri throughout recent turmoil as Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey D. Feltman demonstrated during a visit to the Tunisian capital. Feltman who is knowledgeable of Lebanese politics as former U.S. envoy to Lebanon questioned the legitimacy of Mikati’s appointment as Prime Minister, "as I understand Lebanese politics, it's not only important that the top position in government reflect a democratic majority but that they embody the aspirations of the community they represent." Furthermore he added, "to the extent that he's not the … representative of the Sunni community, who is he representing?"
According the Wall Street Journal, the United States has poured millions of dollars in military aid to Lebanon since 2006 with the intention of strengthening ties between the two countries and helping assure the stability of an important ally.
US Department of State Daily Press Briefing January 24, 2011
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