New Lebanese government to prepare statement on policy goals

The new Lebanese Cabinet pose for a group photo with President Michel Aoun, first row center, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, first row center right, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (first row center left during their meeting on February 2. (AFP)
Updated 02 February 2019

New Lebanese government to prepare statement on policy goals

  • The cabinet’s first meeting was held at the presidential palace near Beirut on Saturday
  • It was attended by 30 cabinet ministers as well as the president and prime minister

BEIRUT:  Lebanon’s new Cabinet has held its first meeting and the country’s leaders vowed to deal with the political and economic challenges the country faces.

The meeting was held at the presidential palace near Beirut on Saturday and attended by the 30 Cabinet ministers as well as the president and prime minister.

The new Cabinet, which was announced on Thursday night, formed a 10-member committee whose job will be to draft a government policy statement that will be read in Parliament ahead of a vote of confidence.

Lebanon’s new government will start preparing its policy statement on Monday that may provide an early clue as to whether the coalition government can agree on the “bold reforms” that Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri has said are needed.

It may also address issues such as Lebanon’s relationship with Syria and the Iran-backed Hezbollah group’s possession of a large arsenal on which members of the coalition disagree.

At Saturday’s Cabinet meeting, the first since the government was formed on Thursday, Hariri said: “There are difficult decisions in all areas that we must take.”


Nothing new

Though Lebanon has a new government, formed after nine months of political wrangling, many Lebanese feel that little will change.

“It’s the same political class that has nothing to do with reform,” said George Azar, an activist with the Lebanese Corruption Observatory. “We’re ready to take to the streets and protest all the waste, corruption and failed policies.” 

Nasser Yassin, director of research at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, said: “The new government is a positive step in principle. It must continue to work on the agreements Lebanon had signed, and issue implementation decrees of the laws issued on paper.” 

He added: “There are respectable new ministers, but in my opinion the content of the current government is an embellishment of the previous one.”

“It can’t face the major issues related to economic reforms, Syrian refugees in Lebanon and problems associated with the regional situation. This isn’t a rescue government but a beautification one.”

Mona Kattan said: “As a Lebanese activist in the field of giving women the right to grant citizenship to their foreign children, I’m glad to see four women holding ministerial portfolios.”

Housewife Hind said nothing has changed but ministers’ faces. “They make promises, but this is Hezbollah’s government and it will be however Hezbollah likes,” she said. Prime Minister Saad Hariri “was stuck with a fait accompli,” she added. 

“It’s true that some ministers are competent, but they’re linked to the political leaders who brought them, so how can they make reforms that may not serve their leaders?” 

Lawyer Saleh Suleiman said he is glad “a woman has been appointed interior minister because it gives a positive impression in the Arab and Western worlds.”

He added: “Hezbollah’s assumption of the health portfolio doesn’t mean it will work wonders with it. I believe it will continue the work of those who preceded it.” 

Appointing ministers from the Bekaa Valley does not mean the region will be given more attention because they, including the ministers of health and agriculture, seldom visit the Bekaa, Suleiman said. 

Playwright Yahya Jaber said: “As a Lebanese citizen who has hit rock bottom, I have no choice but to be optimistic that this government will do something.”

He added: “I’m happy that four women were appointed in the Cabinet, but does this mean women aren’t corrupt or unlikely to become so?” 

He wondered why there was a focus on appointing ministers from the north of the country. “Is it because the next phase is focused on the reconstruction of Syria through the capital of northern Lebanon, Tripoli?” he asked. “I’m not a politician, but I connect the dots and this is how I see things.”


Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

Updated 19 April 2019

Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

  • Divers find pottery and stone in shipwrecks dating back 2,300 years
  • Discoveries are from Alexander the Great’s siege of Tyre in 332 BC

BEIRUT: Forty meters down, on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Lebanon, the divers knew they were looking at history.

Among the shipwrecks they investigated this month at 11 sites south of the city of Tyre, they found pottery and stone that had been there for more than 2,300 years.

“The shape of the pottery confirms that it dates back to more than 332 BC,” said the Lebanese archaeologist Dr. Jafar Fadlallah.

Mohammed Al-Sargi, captain of the diving team that found the wrecks, is even more certain. “The pottery and stone found on these wooden ships indicate that they were part of the campaign of Alexander the Great, who in 332 BC attempted to capture the city of Tyre, which was then an island,” he said.

“According to the history books, Alexander built a causeway linking the mainland to the island. These vessels might have been used to transport the stone required for the construction of the road, but due to the heavy loads and storms, they might have sunk.”

UNESCO recognized the archaeological importance of Tyre in 1979, when it added the city to its list of World Heritage Sites. Lebanon’s Directorate of Antiquities, in cooperation with European organizations, has carried out extensive excavations since the 1940s to uncover its historical secrets. They have revealed that the ancient maritime city included residential neighborhoods, public baths, sports centers, and streets paved with mosaics. The discoveries date back to the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine periods.

During the Phoenician era, Tyre played an important role as it dominated maritime trade. It contributed to the establishment of commercial settlements around the Mediterranean and the spread of religions in the ancient world. It also resisted occupation by the Persians and the Macedonians, choosing to remain neutral in the struggle between the two bitter enemies. However, Macedonian king Alexander the Great considered gaining control of the island and establishing a naval base there to be a key to victory in the war, and he set out in January 332 BC to conquer it at any cost.

The area in which the diving team discovered the wrecks is “an underwater desert with no valleys or seaweed, a few hundred meters from the coast of Tyre,” said Al-Sargi.

“We found 11 sites, some of them close to each other and others far apart. In each location, there were piles of stones and broken pots.

“We continued to explore the sites quietly to keep away fishermen and uninvited guests. We sought the help of archaeologists, who assured us that the discovery rewrites the history of the city, and specifically the campaign of Alexander the Great. So, we decided to put the discovery in the custody of the General Directorate of Antiquities for further exploration and interpretation.”

The most recent find, which Al-Sargi described as a “time capsule,” is only the latest important discovery made by the team in Lebanon.

“In 1997, the divers discovered the submerged city of Sidon,” Al-Sargi continued. “In 2001, we discovered the city of Yarmouta opposite the Zahrani area. In 1997, we discovered sulfuric water in the Sea of Tyre. We conducted studies on fresh-water wells in the sea off the city coast.

“We are not archaeologists and we cannot explain what we have seen. Our role is to inspect and report to the relevant Lebanese authorities and abide by the law.”

Fadlallah, an archaeologist with 40 years experience of working at Lebanon’s ancient sites, picks up the story to explain what he believes to be the significance of the discovery at Tyre.

“The sites are about 700 meters from where Tyre beach was when it was an island,” he said. “The piles of stones were 50 meters to 200 meters apart and the pots seemed to have been broken by a collision because there was not one left intact. This means that these stones and pots were on ships and there was a violent collision between them.”

He said that studies of the remains of the pots suggest that they are of Greek origin.

“There are various forms of them,” he said, “and it is clear that the ships that were carrying them were related to the ships of Alexander the Great during his campaign on Tyre, and they appear to have been hit by storms.”

There are, of course, always skeptics — among them Dr. Ali Badawi, director of archaeological sites in the south at Lebanon’s General Directorate of Antiquities. The pots alone did not constitute sufficient “evidence that the ships belonged to the campaign of Alexander the Great,” he said.

“What was published by the captain of the divers contains unclear details, and the subject should be based on scientific explanations. I think that the sea is wide and piracy was possible at the sites of the submerged ships.

“Exploration operations are taking place in the breakwater area, involving a French mission and Lebanese archaeologists. Before that, a Spanish expedition along with marine archaeologists participated in examining the remains of a ship dating back to the BC era.

“Ship exploration is very expensive, and the city of Tyre was subjected to numerous military siege campaigns and many ships sank. But this does not mean that we will not investigate this new discovery, according to the instructions of the minister of culture.”