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.”


UN begins evacuating refugees from Libya to Niger

Updated 5 min 27 sec ago

UN begins evacuating refugees from Libya to Niger

  • The renewed fighting has killed over 200 people and left more than 900 wounded
  • Dozens of women and children were among those evacuated on the UNHCR flight that landed in Niger early Friday morning

GENEVA: The UN said Friday it had evacuated 163 refugees from war-ravaged Libya to neighboring Niger, but more than 3,000 others were still trapped in detention centers affected by clashes.
The move marked the first evacuation of refugees and migrants out of Libya since fighting escalated in Tripoli two weeks ago, the UN refugee agency said.
“Given the situation in Libya, humanitarian evacuations are a lifeline for detained refugees whose lives are in jeopardy in Libya,” UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said in a statement.
The operation came as fierce fighting continued between forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar and those backing the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
The renewed fighting has killed over 200 people and left more than 900 wounded, the World Health Organization said Thursday.
More than 25,000 have been displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Dozens of women and children were among those evacuated on the UNHCR flight that landed in Niger early Friday morning.
They had all been held in detention centers near the frontlines of the conflict.
UNHCR said it had previously relocated many of them from the Abu Selim and Ain Zara centers to its Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in the center of the capital.
In all, it said, it had relocated 539 refugees from several detention centers near the immediate fighting zone.
But it said more than 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention in areas where the fighting was raging.
The agency said it remained “extremely concerned” for the safety of those who remain “trapped inside detention centers and exposed to violence.”
Grandi meanwhile hailed Niger for welcoming the refugees and urged other countries to follow suit.
“Niger’s solidarity in receiving these refugees is world-leading and exemplary, but Niger cannot do this alone,” he said.
“There must be shared responsibility and we need other countries to come forward to lend a hand and help bring vulnerable refugees out of Libya to safety.”
UNHCR issued an urgent appeal to the international community to find solutions for all the trapped and detained refugees in Libya.
Among other things, it said there was a need for evacuations and humanitarian corridors to allow refugees in its GDF in Tripoli to find safety abroad.
It also said new such spaces were needed, since the facility had only limited capacity.