As most followers of all things Lebanese know, a unity government headed by Saad Hariri has been formed after five months of… well, formation. Ziad Baroud is going to retain his position as Minister of Interior (president’s share) and that is good news. But there is even better news: The Free Patriotic Movement has chosen no other than economist, activist, and intellectual Sharbil Nahhas for the post of Minister of Telecommunications. To those of you not familiar with Sharbil Nahhas, his website (trilingual) gives a good idea of his qualifications. Nahhas is a reformer in spirit with a fundamental critique and understanding of our sectarian system. Over the past two decades, Nahhas has put together several proposals, such as a strategy for social development and a law proposal for a pension scheme, that, needless to say, never made it through the system. As the inside man, there is reason to hope a little.
Other than Baroud and Nahhas, there are actually some good choices in this makeup (by “good” I mean people who are actually into “governing” while in government). Rayya Haffar al-Hassan (Future Movement) came in as first Lebanese female minister of Finance ever and one of two women in the unity government. No fundamental change is going to come from these quarters. She has been schooled by Hariri and Sanioura and, as she herself has declared, she intends to follow similar financial policies. But to be realistic, she is competent and one can hope this will reflect on the ever ballooning public debt. Fadi Abboud (FPM, tourism) and Hassan Mnaymnah (Future Movement, education) are also promising choices. As for Amal, Hizballah, and Junblat, they have mostly exhibited characteristic lack of creativity in their choice of ministers.
There has also been a lot of focus in the media on Hariri’s snub to the Kataeb. The Gemayyel party has been dealt what is regarded in Lebanon as a third rate ministry, namely Social Affairs. There are two things to note here. The first is that far from being a shock, this comes as the culmination of the problems Kataeb has been having with March 14, not just Hariri. The second point is summarized succinctly by Khaled Saghiyah in today’s al-Akhbar: “The government to Hariri is like the weapons to Hizballah; you can support it as an ally but you cannot partake of it.”
Next on the agenda, a Hariri pilgrimage to Damascus to be followed by a Junblat chaser.