Cabinet headed by billionaire businessman Najib Mikati will face massive job of passing major reforms to pull country out of economic tailspin and secure rescue package
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanese factions formed a new government on Friday, breaking a 13-month deadlock that saw the country slide deeper into financial chaos and poverty.
Lebanon has been without a fully empowered government since the catastrophic August 4, 2020 explosion at Beirut port, which forced the resignation of then prime minister Hassan Diab’s government.
Rival political groups had been locked in disagreement over the make-up of a new government since then, hastening the country’s economic meltdown.
The new cabinet of 24 ministers headed by billionaire businessman Najib Mikati was announced by the president’s office, and later by the Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers, Mahmoud Makkieh.
Ministers were handpicked by the same politicians who have ruled the country for the past decades and whose corruption and mismanagement many blame for the country’s current crisis.
The new government announced Friday faces a mammoth task that few believe can be surmounted, including undertaking critically needed reforms. Among its first jobs will be overseeing a financial audit of the Central Bank, and resuming negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package to stem the country’s collapse. The new cabinet is also expected to oversee general elections scheduled for next year.
Mikati, a businessman tycoon from the northern city of Tripoli and one of the richest men in Lebanon, was tasked with forming a new government in July. He is widely considered to be part of the same political class that brought the country to bankruptcy. He served as prime minister in 2005 and from 2011 to 2013.
It was not immediately clear what last-minute compromise resulted in the breakthrough Friday. The announcement of a new government comes after recent US and French pressure to form a cabinet, after Lebanon’s economic unraveling reached a critical point with crippling shortages in fuel and medicine threatening to shut down hospitals, bakeries and the country’s internet.
A new government has been announced in Lebanon over a year after the previous administration quit following the devastating Beirut port explosion.
Najib Mikati – Lebanon’s richest man – becomes prime minister, a position he has held twice before.
His appointment, along with the naming of a new cabinet, ends months of political paralysis.
It comes as Lebanon grapples with some of the severest domestic crises it has faced in its history.
The value of the currency has collapsed, unemployment and inflation have soared, electricity, fuel and medicines are in short supply, and the country has been rocked by nearly two years of protests calling for wholesale political reforms.
Lebanon had been without a proper functioning government since then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after a massive blast on 4 August 2020 destroyed Beirut port and the surrounding area.
The explosion, caused by improperly stored ammonium nitrate, killed 203 people, injured at least 6,000 others and left billions of dollars of damage.
The disaster – coming in the midst of the pandemic – triggered a wave of outrage against the government and Lebanon’s political system. Protesters blamed the blast on corruption, incompetence and a system of patronage where jobs are given in return for political support.
Speaking to the BBC after announcing the new cabinet, Mr Mikati said one of his first priorities would be to restart talks with the International Monetary Fund to secure a financial rescue package.
“You know what a critical situation we are in,” he said, noting the growing strain on the education and healthcare sectors, as well as the increasing numbers of people leaving the country.
He added that despite his own wealth, he was able to understand the impact of the current crisis on people’s lives: “I have three children… outside Lebanon. So I feel with people. I feel the kind of poverty, the kind of hunger they are in, the fear they have of the future. So this is not just a matter of money or not [having] money.”
Lebanon’s delicate sectarian power-sharing system had stymied repeated attempts to form a government in the wake of Hassan Diab’s resignation.
Since the end of the 1975-90 civil war, political power has been delicately balanced between its many sects, with the president a Christian, prime minister a Sunni Muslim and Speaker a Shia Muslim. An inability to come to an agreement on the nomination of ministers to the satisfaction of various factions and blocs held up the process.
IDF artillery allegedly fired flares near the borders with both Lebanon and Gaza around the same time on Monday evening, according to reports by Israeli and Arab media.
At 9:30, the Palestinian Safa Press Agency tweeted a picture of an alleged flare which their correspondent claimed was fired toward the Kissufim area of southern Israel, east of the Gaza city of Khan Younis.
Fewer than 10 minutes later, a reporter for the Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar tweeted a picture of his own, which he claims fell near the Israel-Lebanon border.
According to Israeli media, the flares in northern Israel were fired due to fears of an intrusion into Israeli territory in the area of the Manara Cliff in the Upper Galilee, to aid the soldiers conducting searches.
The security cabinet authorized late Sunday the transfer of some NIS 2.4 billion ($725 million) in tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians after the Palestinian Authority decided to renew cooperation earlier this month.
AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and both leaders set high hopes that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will revive peace talks over a two-state solution to the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict, officials said.
Defense minister warns of possible difficult days for home front after terror group head Nasrallah said it will bomb Israeli cities in response to any attacks in Lebanon
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Thursday that Hezbollah will be “fatally wounded” if Israel needs to go to war in Lebanon, after the terror group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Israel following an Israel Defense Forces exercise simulating war with the terror group.
“If we have to go to battle, Lebanon will tremble and Hezbollah will be fatally wounded,” Gantz said at a ceremony to honor soldiers who fell in battle and whose burial places are unknown.
Lokman Slim, who went missing Wednesday evening en route to Beirut, was regularly criticized by terror group’s supporters, media
A prominent Lebanese publisher and vocal critic of the Shiite Hezbollah terror group was found dead in his car Thursday morning, shot multiple times at close range, security and forensic officials said.
Lokman Slim, a 58-year-old longtime Shiite political activist and researcher, was found in his car on a rural road near the southern village of Addoussieh.
A forensic coroner on the scene said Slim was shot in his chest, head and neck, killing him on the spot. Blood was splattered over the passenger seat of a rental car, where his body had apparently fallen.