Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lebanon: The “Two-Color” Government

By Husam Itani
Behind the “one color” prevailing over the Lebanese government, i.e. the affiliation with the same – albeit non-harmonious – political camp, there is another “color” characterizing the majority of the ministers, and especially the new ones.
It might thus be useful to look into the background of these ministers, in order to explore the climate that will accompany the work of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet and its meetings. There is firstly a solid partisan bloc, whose majority of members are former secondary school teachers (four ministers). This bloc is supported by a number of ministers dedicated to their partisan belonging, as their educational qualifications do not seem to have played a role in their accession to ministerial office. As for the third important group, it includes ministers from the engineering sector and the professions linked to it (eight ministers), businessmen and economists (five ministers) and lawyers and jurists (four). We should stress at this point that many ministers practice professions that are not directly linked to their academic specializations (a sociologist working as a bank advisor, or an attorney occupying an official post at the Beirut Stock Market).
A fast reading into the map of professional-social belonging of a large portion of the ministers, reveals that we are in the presence of a government in which those coming from undefined areas in the Lebanese society are a majority. This talk should in no way be an indication of the marginal character of the factions that produced our new ministers, but rather quite the contrary. Indeed, the absence of any borders and the intertwinement between professions and academic qualifications constitute a characteristic of Lebanese society in which many experts are unable to define the mechanisms by which its people earn their living.
However, the vagueness affecting the ministers’ backgrounds is not this government’s only flaw, considering that its tasks might extend from backing up the rule in Syria during its current crisis, to saving the new majority from collapse by getting it to launch the reform project it has always talked about on the economic and social levels. At this level, the multitude of tasks does not seem to go in line with the number of available means.
These economic and social areas are the ones prompting serious question regarding the ability of this government to secure any progress in improving the citizens’ living conditions and activating the drained and depleted public services to their utmost level. Indeed, at a time when Lebanese political life is continuing to be based on sterile divisions, all eyes are turned toward what should be accomplished by the ministers of the powers that have long been complaining about corruption, the absence of transparency, and the lack of efficiency of the previous governments, in which the majority of the services ministers belonged to the March 14 alliance.
It would be useless to say that the objections voiced by the March 8 ministers against the economic and social policies of the two former prime ministers, i.e. Fouad al-Seniora and Saad al-Hariri, were mere platforms to fire at the two men’s governments. This is due to the fact that the new majority has no political vision and no idea how to respond to the urgent questions of the citizens in regard to medical services, unemployment, immigration, and the deterioration of public administration. It is even likely that the new government will borrow the general policies of the previous governments, and recycle them by resorting to the reform-development jargon.
Hence, the new government – and its ministers who enjoy sectarian and regional loyalties – is emerging with a traditional baggage of professional expertise and scientific qualifications, amid circumstances in which nothing is traditional except for the reduced vision, the retreat of the number of creative thinkers, and a pale “color” to be added to the single political “color”.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 17/06/2011

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