Lebanon’s Mikati Forms New Cabinet With Hezbollah Support

Lebanese billionaire Najib Mikati, the prime minister tasked with forming a government after the January collapse of Saad Hariri’s coalition, announced the formation of his Cabinet today.

The majority of the new Cabinet comes from the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, according to the the Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star. The previous government fell amid a dispute with the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement over the United Nations inquiry into the killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Saad’s father.

“We hope that this government will win your confidence and the confidence of your representatives in parliament,” Mikati told reporters today in Beirut.

Rafiq Hariri was killed along with 22 others by a roadside bomb in Beirut in 2005. The country has since witnessed at least seven political assassinations, a monthlong war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 and civil unrest three years ago in which about 80 people died.

The wrangling over Lebanon’s involvement in the tribunal threatens a return to sectarian violence in a country that emerged from a 15-year civil war in 1990. Mikati got support from Hezbollah and its allies. His opponents say he will yield to their demands to disavow the UN tribunal.

Cabinet Members

The new Cabinet includes Mohammad Safadi as finance minister and Fayez Ghosn as defense minister. Among the other appointments, Marwan Charbel was named interior minister and Samir Moqbel deputy prime minister, while Gibran Bassil retains his position as minister of energy and water.

After the announcement, State Minister Talal Arslan, a Druze leader, said in a news conference that he was resigning from the new government. He said he has no confidence that Mikati can lead the government. He said Mikati should have given Druze representatives a higher level post, the Associated Press reported.

Hariri and his pro-Western Future Movement have said they were betrayed in the way Mikati came to power and won’t take part in an administration headed by anyone backed by Hezbollah and its allies.

“I have a friendship with Hezbollah and I also have contacts outside of Lebanon, but it doesn’t mean I follow anyone’s agenda,” Mikati said in a January 27 interview at his Beirut office. “My own agenda is going to be followed and that agenda is to maintain very good relations with the international community, and Lebanon has to fulfill its commitments.”

Hezbollah Role

Mikati was confirmed as premier by President Michel Suleiman after winning the backing of lawmakers in January. The formation of the Cabinet was delayed by political bickering over cabinet portfolios.

Hezbollah brought down the government on Jan. 12 as it sought to halt the UN investigation. It alleges the tribunal was instigated by the U.S. and Israel to target the group, along with Syria, which supports Hezbollah.

An indictment filed in January by the UN prosecutor is being reviewed by a court in the Netherlands. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said since July he expects the judge to indict some of his members. Both Hezbollah and Syria have denied any involvement in Hariri’s death.

Mohammed Raad, the head of Hezbollah’s 12-member bloc in parliament, said after meeting Mikati in January that the Shiite organization hadn’t made any demands on the prime minister or imposed any conditions on him regarding the tribunal.

Mikati’s Business

The U.S. and Israel classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Mikati, who served as a caretaker premier in 2005, is a graduate of the American University of Beirut. The 6-foot-4-inch entrepreneur founded Investcom, which runs phone networks in emerging markets, with his brother Taha in 1982. MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest mobile-phone operator, bought the company in 2006 for $5.5 billion.

The brothers, from the northern port city of Tripoli, run M1 Group, a company whose holdings include real estate investments in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, as well as the Geneva-based Baboo airline and French retailer Faconnable.

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