Lebanese balancing act

You may remember a flurry of media excitement a month or so ago over whether Hizbullah would win the Lebanese elections. It didn’t, and so Lebanon dropped off the world news map again.

Almost three weeks on, incoming prime minister Saad Hariri (or Mini-Hariri as the Angry Arab likes to call him) is still trying to put together a cabinet. This is nothing unusual in Lebanon, and Qifa Nabki explains the complexities. The goal, he says, is to form the broadest possible coalition but “without completely crippling the executive branch through perpetual veto-enforced gridlock.”

Moving on from that, there are the “distributional conventions” of Lebanese governments:

"For example, the cabinet is typically supposed to be split equally between Christians and Muslims. Furthermore, Maronites, Sunnis, and Shiites are usually given the same share each. In a thirty-member cabinet, this would mean that there would have to be 15 Christians (eg, 6 Maronites and 9 non-Maronites) and 15 Muslims (eg, 6 Sunnis, 6 Shiites, and 3 Druzes)."

Beyond that, you have to please the foreigners who like to think they run the country – most notably the Syrians and Saudis.

Opinion seems to favour a 30-member cabinet with 15 places for the US/Saudi-back March 14 group, 10 for the Syrian-backed March 8 group and five for the president’s nominees.

Qifa Nabki says: “One way or the other, we should know in, oh… maybe another six months.”

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 17 July 2009