Lebanon News

The Devil in the Cabinet details

The Lebanese, growing increasingly frustrated with Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati’s failure to form a new government, are now blaming the devil for the nearly four-month-long Cabinet deadlock! “The devil is in the details.

So the devil is to blame for the Cabinet crisis,” a source close to the government formation talks said.

During Lebanon’s devastating 1975-90 Civil War, the Lebanese gave the word “cease-fire” a bad name. Hundreds of cease-fire agreements signed by commanders of rival militias or their political leaders to stop fighting were not worth the ink with which they were written because they tended to be broken as early as a few hours after they were agreed.

The main reason cited for the breakdown of the cease-fire accords throughout the years of the sectarian conflict was a misinterpretation of the truce provisions or what later became known in Lebanese jargon as “the devil in the details.”

In other words, each party would interpret the truce provisions in the manner that served its interests best, even if this meant harming the interests of others and the country.

“The ‘Devil in the details’ mars the spiritual [summit] … and the Interior Ministry,” As-Safir newspaper said in its front-page banner headline Friday.

The paper said “the devil in the details” suddenly emerged, destroying in the past few hours the positive climate that followed the understanding reached by President Michel Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun on a compromise candidate to the Interior Ministry portfolio.

The struggle between Sleiman and Aoun over the Interior Ministry post was largely blamed for blocking the formation of a new government after the March 8 parties had endorsed Mikati’s latest draft 30-member Cabinet lineup and the share of each party.

“The ‘devil in the details’ also destroyed the limelight of the Christian-Muslim spiritual summit … raising a question on whether a second spiritual summit could be held,” As-Safir said.

The paper was referring to the final communiqué issued by Lebanon’s top Christian and Muslim religious leaders after their one-day summit meeting at the Maronite patriarch’s seat in Bkirki, northeast of Beirut, Thursday which prompted a counter-statement by Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan, the head of the Higher Shiite Islamic Council.

Qabalan, who attended the summit, issued a statement Thursday rejecting articles 6 and 7 of the summit’s communiqué for ignoring Hezbollah’s role in defending Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack.

Article 6 emphasized “the state’s right to liberate territories occupied by Israel,” which led Qabalan to demand that “Lebanon” replace the “state” in the wording of the article to signify the role of the army, the people and resistance in protecting Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack.

Qabalan said the final communiqué was altered and didn’t conform to the initial communiqué agreed upon before the summit by religious leaders.

It took over two months to settle the Sleiman-Aoun dispute over the Interior Ministry portfolio, as each man insisted on taking the portfolio for his side.

Following several rounds of consultations, an agreement was reached Wednesday to end the row over the Interior Ministry portfolio by nominating retired police officer, Brig. Gen. Marwan Charbel, as a consensus candidate to the Interior Ministry, removing a major hurdle to the Cabinet’s formation.

Although the settlement of the Interior Ministry dispute raised hopes for a quick formation of the government, these hopes vanished as soon as talks began between Mikati and the March 8 parties over the distribution of the remaining 29 portfolios, reflecting deep differences over shares and threatening to scuttle a final deal on the government.

One major hurdle that needs to be addressed is Sleiman’s demand for another Maronite minister on the grounds that Charbel is not fully part of his share in the new Cabinet. But Sleiman’s demand has been rejected by Aoun, a source close to the FPM said.

Tough haggling over the Telecommunications, Justice and Energy Ministries was also reported between Mikati and the March 8 parties.

Asked whether resolving the rift over the Interior Ministry portfolio would help break the Cabinet stalemate, a source close to the government formation talks said: “Expect the devil to intervene in the details when discussion of other portfolios begins.”

In addition to the devil, rival factions have traded accusations about foreign countries’ intervention in the Cabinet formation.

Politicians from the March 14 coalition, which has decided to boycott Mikati’s government, have accused Syria and Iran of blocking the Cabinet’s formation to serve their own interests.

Hezbollah and its March 8 allies hit back, accusing the United States of interfering in the Cabinet formation efforts by exerting pressure on Mikati.

MP Qassem Hashem of Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc accused U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly of interfering in the Cabinet process, saying her move has damaged positive contacts on the government’s formation.

“This blatant American interference in Lebanese affairs is nothing new, and it always aims to destabilize [the country] in accordance with the American interest,” Hashem told Akhbar al-Yawm news agency Friday.

In a statement after holding talks with Mikati Thursday, Connelly said in a statement: “The United States views that the international community will assess its relationship with any new government of Lebanon based on the make-up of the next Cabinet, its Ministerial Statement and the actions it takes in regard to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Lebanon’s other international obligations. The U.S. hopes that the government formation process will be protected from outside influence.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 14, 2011, on page 2.

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