The opposition, for weeks now, has been holding up a “second government” as its trump card for breaking the political deadlock in Lebanon. Opposition leaders have threatened that if the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora fails to create a national unity government – along lines acceptable to all of Lebanon’s confessions and political parties – then they will form a government of their own. With little chance, if any, of pro-government and opposition officials coming to agreement on the structure – let alone members – of unity government, or a “salvation” government as General Michel Aoun has called it, the threat of a second, shadow government has been enough to worry many observers. As reported primarily in the Lebanese dailies Al-Balad and Al-Akhbar over the past two weeks, a second government might come into being on July 18, 2007. However, as the opposition faces a lapsed consensus within its own ranks about where to go next, it looks as though the chances of a second government anytime soon are minimal.
That, however, doesn’t mean that the idea of a second government is wholly off the radar. Neither pro-government nor opposition voices have let the issue drop.
Even Lahoud has called the formation of a second government “secessionist,” but…
What if it did happen? What if there were a second government?
NOW Lebanon has put together a mock cabinet, composed of seven of Lebanon’s most prominent politicians who have either endorsed the idea of second government or intimated that they might be willing to serve within it.
What exactly these shadow ministers would do to fulfill their mandates is unclear, especially with the overwhelming majority of the international community certain to boycott their government. However, impotent or otherwise, army commander General Michel Suleiman expressed his fears on Tuesday to reporters that a divided government like this would be dangerous because it will “confuse the army as it will not know which command to follow.”
NOW Lebanon’s speculations are based upon recent statements by opposition politicians as well as opposition assurances that a second government would be representative of Lebanon’s confessional heterogeneity.
If there were a second, opposition-aligned government in Lebanon, it might look something like this:
The (theoretical) opposition shadow government
Fouad Makhzoumi, Prime Minister
Makhzoumi would be a leading candidate for the position of opposition prime minister. According to Lebanon’s constitution, the country’s prime minister must always be a Sunni. Many might have supported a bid by former premiers Selim al-Hoss or Omar Karami for the seat, but the two have already declined to participate, saying that a second government might fracture Lebanon’s already damaged political system. Makhzoumi, however, doesn’t seem to have any such qualms.
Makhzoumi, a Sunni from Beirut, is the very wealthy chairman of the Future Pipe Group, and a member of the prestigious International Board of the US Council on Foreign Relations. In Lebanon, he has earned the support of many for the charitable works of his philanthropic organization, the Makhzoumi Foundation.
Abdul Rahim Mrad, Minister of Defense
In addition to the prime minister, there would there need to be another Sunni within the cabinet to balance the number of Christians and Muslims in accordance to with the Taif Accords.
Mrad, 65, is a former Minister of Education and Higher Studies, Minister of State, and Minster of Defense. Some might peg Mrad as the prime minister in this second government, but Makhzoumi is a bit more popular and has the banking connections that seem to be a must-have for any Lebanese premier. Mrad, then, will have to be content with being Minister of Defense one more time.
Of course, if he has to coordinate any “defense issues” with the US, he’ll have to do it from home, because a recent proclamation by US President George Bush has put Mrad on a blacklist with nine other Syrians and Lebanese. Mrad has been banned from the US for contributing to the destabilization of Lebanon.
Nasser Qandil, Minister of Information
Qandil, also on Bush’s blacklist, ran in 2000 parliamentary elections on Hariri’s list and won a Shia seat in Beirut. In August 2005, Qandil was briefly detained by the UN International Investigation Commission, led at the time by Detlev Mehlis, for questioning in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Qandil, who had previously run on the Hariri ticket, was unsurprisingly replaced on Future’s 2005 Beirut list and failed to win reelection. Though not a Hezbollah party member, as Minister of Information, Qandil would be expected to speak on behalf of the Lebanese Shia, especially Hezbollah.
Talal Arslan, Minister of Social Affairs
Arlsan hasn’t served in parliament since he was replaced by Akram Chehayeb in 2005 parliamentary elections for the Druze seat in Baabda-Aley, which he contested in a then-unlikely alliance with Michel Aoun. A longtime opponent of Walid Jumblatt (their families are traditional rivals for power within the Druze community), Arslan is only 44 but has plenty of experience in Lebanese politics.
Arslan sat in parliament from 1991 – when he took over the seat vacated by the death of his father – till his electoral defeat in 2005, and served in four governments over the period, as the Minister of Tourism, Minister of Emigration, Minister of State without portfolio and Minister of the Displaced. He founded the Lebanese Democratic Party in 2002 and has been its leader since 2002.
Suleiman Franjieh, Minister of the Interior
If Arslan resume of ministerial positions is impressive, he has been outdone by his 42-year-old peer, Maronite Marada leader Suleiman Franjieh. Franjieh has served as Minister of Housing, Minister of State, Minister of the Environment, and Minister of the Interior in various cabinets during the era of Syrian control.
Upon his election as Minister of the Environment some years back, when asked by reporters what he planned to do to help clean up Lebanon’s environment, Franjieh responded that the was “more concerned with the political environment inside Lebanon than the natural environment.”
In light of such statements, it might be best for Prime Minister Makhzoumi to appoint Franjieh to a truly political position like Minister of the Interior rather than trust him with housing or the environment again.
Najah Wakim, Minister of Economics and Finance
The toughest obstacle that this Orthodox minister in the Makhzoumi’s government would have to face would be working side by side with Minister of the Interior Suleiman Franjieh. Franjieh Jr. and Wakim haven’t been on such good terms since the former’s late grandfather, President Suleiman Franjieh Sr., imprisoned Wakim in the 1970s for his outspoken criticisms of the presidency.
A staunch Arabist who describes himself as opposed to “everything,” Wakim founded the People’s Movement or Harakat as-Sha’ab in 1999. The People’s Movement is, admirably, one of the most confessionally diverse political parties in Lebanon. Wakim boycotted the 2000 parliamentary elections because he felt, along with many others, that Lebanon’s electoral laws were fundamentally flawed. Despite these reservations, he ran in 2005 but lost.
Wakim, of late, has been one of the most outspoken voices in the opposition for participation in by-elections to fill the vacant seat of MP Walid Eido in Beirut.
One of Lebanon’s most earnest Leftists, Wakim was a staunch opponent of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s fiscal policy. Perhaps as Minister of Economics and Finance, Wakim would be able to put some of his criticisms to the test.
Michel Samaha, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Of all of the shadow government’s ministers to make the State Department’s blacklist, the travel ban might prove most problematic for Samaha in his potential role as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Any American engagement with Samaha would have to take place on Lebanese soil. That is, if America or Europe would ever even agree to sit down at the table with a second government which they could never recognize.
Samaha, a 59-year-old Greek Catholic, is a three-time Minister of Information and would be the third Christian member of this cabinet, thus preserving the historic fifty-fifty split between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon’s government. A former Phalange member, Samaha is known in Lebanon for his close ties with Syrian intelligence.
Internationally, Samaha is perhaps better known as New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh’s highly controversial source. After charging in a recent article that Saad Hariri was directing funds and channeling arms to Palestinian militants in North Lebanon, it came out that much of the “research” around these allegations came from Samaha who, in all probability, was spoon feeding him a yarn of Syrian intelligence.
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