02/01/2019, 19.45
LEBANON
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Lebanon’s new government faces challenges such investments, debt and refugees

Beirut’s skies lit up with fireworks yesterday to celebrate the formation of a new government. For the third time, Saad Hariri will lead. The 30-member cabinet includes four women. Cautious optimism informs local and regional media. The "internal" problems reflect regional and international conflicts. Reforms are needed to unlock billions in pledges.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – After nine months of political stalemate and tensions among lawmakers, Lebanon finally has a new government. To mark the occasion, fireworks illuminated the sky in Beirut and some Lebanese stocks rose to their highest level since last August.

With the creation of a cabinet of national unity, something that Maronite Patriarch Card Beshara al-Rahi has strongly advocated, all the parties and factions in parliament were able to save face, analysis and experts say.

For Saad al-Hariri, on his third term as prime minister, the bold move was necessary to cope with chronic problems, first of all the huge national debt.

Hariri, speaking in Lebanese vernacular rather standard literary Arabic, apologised to his fellow citizens for the delays in forming a new government.  In and of itself, this is unusual in country where politicians rarely apologise or acknowledge their mistakes.

The new cabinet has 30 members, including four women, one at the Interior Minister, a first.

The country had been waiting for a strong and united government since May, to deal with the many threats and challenges it faces, from the economy (the national debt represents 150 per cent of GDP) and immigration to growing poverty and unemployment, especially among young people.

On several occasions, the Lebanese Church spoke out to highlight the critical situation, which has been aggravated by the civil war in neighbouring Syria and its unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

The new cabinet includes Gebran Bassil, a political ally of Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Shia movement, who is also the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun. He keeps the Foreign Ministry.

The Defence Ministry, which relies on US funding, goes to Elias Bou Saab, another Aoun loyalist.

Rayya Hassan, one of the four women cabinet members, moves from Finance to Interior, whilst, another woman, Nada Bustani, takes over Energy. Ali Hassan Khalil remains at Finance.

The local and regional media have welcomed the new government, albeit following their separate Sunni, Shia or Christian inclination, noting that it is the product of delicate compromises and will face a serious economic crisis.

Analysts and observers note that internal problems that have hindered its creation for so long are in fact a reflection of regional and international conflicts that end up impacting Lebanon.

Whilst enjoying extensive credit and support in the West, the government remains under observation in government circles in Washington due to the presence of pro-Hezbollah members.

The United States is concerned about the possible influence of a "terrorist organisation" that does Tehran's bidding.

After losing more than a third of his seats in the last election, Hariri had to turn to external support and make compromises in a country of 18 religious communities where power-sharing is as much an art as it is fragile.

Hariri now has to implement the necessary reforms to unblock US$ 11 billion in loans and aid promised by the international community and find a solution to the presence of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, almost 1.5 million in a country of 4 million people.

Public finances, a crumbling infrastructure and development projects stuck in the planning stage are some of the issues the new government has to tackle.

For Hariri, "We must turn the page and start working," because “The solution is with a clear program and bold reforms . . . and developing laws that cannot be delayed.”

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