09/10/2021, 17.17
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Mikati names new cabinet to save Lebanon from collapse

by Fady Noun

After 13 months, Lebanon has a new government. For the new prime minister, “we must tighten our belts”. While reiterating Lebanon’s place in the Arab world, he says the country is open to aid from anyone, Syria included. Several highly regarded independents are in the new cabinet.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – After 13 months, Lebanon finally has a new cabinet. The country had been without a government since the resignation of Hassan Diab's cabinet, days after the devastating explosion in the Port of Beirut on 4 August 2020 that killed almost 220 people and ravaged the capital's port districts.

President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, MP for Tripoli, the capital of northern Lebanon, "signed the decree to form the new government in the presence of Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri,” the Office of the President announced at the presidential palace to a supercharged press room.

Ordinary Lebanese had almost given up all hope of seeing a government save them from economic collapse and poverty. Lebanon’s crisis is such that the World Bank has called it one of the worst in the world since 1850, with soaring inflation and massive layoffs that have left about 75 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, according to the United Nations.

Following the announcement, the US dollar saw a sharp drop on the free market, falling from 19,500 Lebanese pounds to below 16,000.

The new cabinet includes several independents, some with a great reputation, like Dr Feras Abiad, head of the Rafic Hariri government hospital, who spearheaded the fight against the coronavirus; Abdallah Bou Habib, former Lebanese Ambassador to the United States, now in charge of Foreign Affairs; Judge Abbas Halabi, who gets Education; and George Kurdahi, a famous TV presenter, now Information minister. As minister of state for Administrative Reform, Najla Riachi Assaker will be the lonely woman in cabinet.

The 24-member cabinet includes 12 Christians (five Maronites, three Greek Orthodox, two Greek Catholics, one Armenian Orthodox, one representing minorities) and 12 Muslims (five Sunnis, five Shias, two Druze). Its first meeting is expected next Monday at 11:00 am (8:00 GMT), said Cabinet Secretary General Mahmoud Makieh.

Many challenges lay ahead for the new government, in particular restarting talks with the International Monetary Fund, interrupted in July 2020, in order to secure an agreement for financial aid.

For the international community, appointing a new cabinet is an essential step to pull Lebanon out of its crisis and unblocking substantial aid.

Speaking to the press as he left the presidential palace, the new prime minister said that the government would work to restore the economy.

“But we must tighten our belts, starting with me," said Mikati, a billionaire from Tripoli who, along with his brother, Taha Mikati, has a majority stake in more than one telecom company.

“I am forming work team, not a government, to serve the people of Lebanon," Mikati told reporters before going to the presidential palace in Baabda. “The important thing is the confidence of the people and the solidarity of the Lebanese in order to rebuild the state. A strong state is in the interest of all,” he added.

In his address, Mr Mikati insisted on Lebanon’s place in the Arab world, noting nevertheless that it is open to any country that will help it out of its quagmire, including Syria, from which part of the Lebanese political establishment is estranged.

The new prime minister also pledged to comply with all the provisions of the constitution, starting with local elections scheduled for May 2022, hoping that no upheavals will thwart the vote.

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