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.”
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.”