Lebanon: New Prime Minister Breaks the Mold

 

In the end, however, the task of forming a new government will largely depend on how quickly the contending sides can agree on a new electoral law. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)
 
Published Monday, April 8, 2013
 
Lebanon’s designated prime minister Tammam Salam has declared his intention to head a consensus government with the “national interest” as its slogan.

He made it clear that his government’s main task would be to oversee the parliamentary election according to a law agreed upon by all sides. To start off on a good foot with everyone, he insisted that he is politically neutral and not beholden to any parties.

Of course everyone is waiting to see how Salam will approach Hezbollah, not only on the formula for the new government, but also on Syria and the party’s resistance activities. March 14’s hawks are talking less these days about the Resistance’s weapons – they’re more concerned about Hezbollah’s presence in Syria.

But developments over the last two years have prompted some March 14 leaders, including Salam, to raise questions about the growing amount of weapons in the hands of Hezbollah’s foes, which have become a greater source of worry for the Lebanese than those under the control of the Resistance.
Hezbollah need not put the prime minister-designate through any tests to know his position on the issues that matter most to the party. They’re quite comfortable that he won’t repeat the actions of his Future Movement predecessors Saad Hariri and Fouad Siniora

Michel Aoun, too, has little to worry about, particularly on the question of Salam’s relations with radical Islamist currents, like the Salafis. It is true that the two men are not in regular contact, but those who shuttle between them claim that Salam’s positions are reassuring to Christians in Lebanon.

Practically speaking, there are no major obstacles between Salam, on one side, and March 8 and Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, on the other. The coming days will reveal that the two sides conducted negotiations far from the media, which are likely to produce a better relationship than the one that existed with outgoing prime minister Najib Mikati.

In the end, however, the task of forming a new government will largely depend on how quickly the contending sides can agree on a new electoral law. Without such a breakthrough, Salam’s mission may very well become a long and difficult one.

But what about Salam’s relationship to the Future Movement and March 14, or even the ascending Islamist forces? How will he deal with the demands placed on him by Hariri’s men and to what extent will they leave him room to make his own choices?


Most Lebanese know by now that Salam was not Hariri’s optimal choice for prime minister. Both he and his Saudi patrons would have preferred former Internal Security Forces commander Ashraf Rifi, but the moment was not yet right to maneuver him into office.

Salam may not pose any real danger to Hariri’s position among Sunnis, but there are many in Beirut – Salam’s hometown – that feel that they have been marginalized since the ascent of the Hariris to power two decades ago. It is enough for Salam to hear out Beiruti politicians, activists, and leaders to understand the scale of discontent in the capital.

As for his outlook toward the rising Islamist forces, Salam is a conservative in the traditional sense, for whom political Islam represents a headache for Lebanon’s Sunnis, primarily due to the way it relates to the country’s diverse religious and confessional landscape.

It is well-known that Salam’s daily life is full of close interactions with Beirut’s many sects, as well as the city’s mix of political and social currents. This is in stark contrast to the inward-looking and communal life-style advocated by the Salafis.

In many ways, Salam may find it easier to deal with Hezbollah and Aoun than his traditional March 14 allies, who have already laid political claim to the prime minister-designate.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
 

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian  
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

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