Bilal Saab, senior fellow for the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, writes on Lebanon’s new government and the likelihood of reforms in World Politics Review:
On Feb. 15, Lebanon formed a new government after 11 months of political deadlock. Yet the real significance and impact this will have on Lebanon’s political stability is very much unclear. The new Cabinet allows Lebanon’s main parties—the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and the Sunni Future Movement—to resume their political fight inside the government rather than on the street, although one does not preclude the other. However, several points of contention remain between the two sides that could obstruct further progress.
For the new Cabinet to start addressing a host of pressing challenges, including the election of a new president before the summer, the Syrian refugee crisis, the deteriorating security situation and the collapsing economy, it must first come up with a set of political principles in the form of a policy statement. But Hezbollah and the Future Movement, and their respective allies, disagree on what the policy statement should say. Hezbollah wants the document to refer to its right to resist Israel, so that the Lebanese state continues to legitimize and legalize the group’s weapons. The Future Movement insists that such a role of national defense be strictly assumed by the Lebanese army. The Future Movement, along with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, also wants the policy statement to include a clause stating that Lebanon will maintain “neutrality” in regional conflicts, specifically the war in Syria, to apply pressure on Hezbollah to end its military involvement there. Such a clause would be consistent with the “Baabda declaration” emphasizing Lebanese neutrality, which the two sides agreed upon in 2012.