Almost ten months after Lebanon held an election it finally has a new government. A long stalemate between the leading parties had kept the country in limbo. Now at least four women will take leading roles in the new ministries being formed.
This is important as the region transitions from years of uncertainty to more powerful states playing a role. Lebanon has had numerous impasses over the years. The inability to appoint a president for years was finally settled in 2016. In general the problem in Lebanon is not only sectarianism, but also deep divisions in society. After Syria was forced to leave in 2005 the role of Hezbollah has increased. Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, has struggled to hold onto power with his allies while being forced into national unity governments with other parties.
Now a new government is being formed along those lines. There is a silver lining. Women received an unprecedented four ministries. Joyce Karam praised them as respected professionals with long resumes.
Details about the new government began leaking as sunset in Beirut on Thursday. Saad Hariri will be Prime Minister again, his third term. His father, Rafic Hariri, was assassinated in 2005, leading to a mass protest that eventually ejected Syrian forces from the country. But Lebanon has faced turmoil since, with Hezbollah and its allies on the rise. The finance minister, from the Shi’ite Amal party, will remain the same, in Ali Hassan Khalil’s hands. Gebran Bassil of Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement will stay on as foreign minister. Hezbollah gets the health ministry.
Joyce Karam, Washington correspondent of The National noted that women will run four of the 30 appointed ministries. This is unprecedented. “The women in Lebanon’s government are neither token nor figureheads. For the first time, women take the ministries of Energy and Interior,” she tweeted. She provided their names as May Chidiac, Nada Boustany, Raya Hassan and Violette Khairallah Safadi. Hassan was previously a finance minister and is an ally of Hariri. Chidiac, a journalist, was badly wounded in an assassination attempt in 2005, losing a leg.
The defense minister will reportedly be Elias Bou Saab.He is an ally of Aoun who is also allied with Hezbollah. A former Minister of Education and Higher Education, it is unclear why he was chosen for the Defense Ministry, except that he is part of Aoun’s party.
Although choosing the Health Minister doesn’t appear like an important appointment, it is widely considered an increasing role for the group. “This ministry has the fourth biggest budget in the Lebanese state,” according to Reuters. That gives Hezbollah more control as a time of tension with Israel and at a time when Hezbollah’s allies in Syria and Tehran appear to be increasing their power in the region. Iran’s allies in Iraq have also sought out government ministries, straddling the role of armed militia and political party.