Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lebanon: Real Work Ahead

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati

After five months of inexpressibly tedious haggling, the arrival of the new Cabinet might seem like something of an accomplishment – but the real work of this government has barely begun.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati tried to please all sides in cobbling together this administration, though such an outcome – especially in a political scene as deeply riven as this one – was never realistic. Indeed, on the day the Cabinet officially came into being, Talal Arslan already decided to leave.
The departure of Talal Arslan will not prevent this government from achieving great things, but it must be understood that getting this coalition of nominal allies to settle on a lineup was in fact the easy part. Now comes the hard part.

Much more than the roster of largely expected names, the Arab countries and the West will be waiting intently to see the Cabinet’s ministerial statement; of course, five months of power vacuum indicates that hashing out the statement might be less than simple as well.
The entire international community wants to see a clear position on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The U.S. and other Western powers have long insisted that any Lebanese government recognize the legitimacy of the court and provide full cooperation. The Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, have gone on record saying that they would not deal with any Cabinet that they viewed as under the sway of Hezbollah.

The government’s stance toward U.N. Security Council resolutions on Lebanon and toward the UNIFIL forces here will also serve as a litmus test for the outside world. In Lebanon and in the region, many want to hear what the new administration will do about the tottering Lebanese economy. How will this Cabinet deal with foreign investors? What are its intentions with the country’s crippling debt burden and its obligations from the various Paris debt conferences?
The Lebanese can see every day the enormous economic challenges awaiting this or any other cabinet. Grinding poverty is a reality in many regions of the country. In addition, the environment is continuously abused, the nation has lacked an independent judiciary for decades and hundreds of senior, middle and junior civil-service posts remain vacant. The rule of law seems as distant a dream as ever.

On the most basic level, the government must prove that it can provide security. Without security – and a number of economic and legal criteria – Lebanese abroad and wealthy Arabs will never have the confidence to invest here and breathe life back into the economy.
As if these pressing problems were not enough of a test, much of the surrounding Arab region also happens to be undergoing a bit of a conflagration. All that we found out on Monday were the names of the ministers in the new Cabinet; we have yet to discover what they want to do and what they know how to do.

This editorial was published in The Daily Star on 14/06/2011

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