BEIRUT/SIDON: Opinions were split across the country Friday after news of Lebanon’s government formation.
Some people expressed hope that the increased number of women in the new Cabinet could bring changes, while others remained skeptical. “Lebanese women have established themselves in every field, such as the Interior Ministry, which is critical in terms of society and security,” Riyan Zaatari, a social worker in Sidon, said.
She told The Daily Star she was thankful for “women’s meaningful participation in the government,” and said she believed the increased number of women in the Cabinet was not simply the government paying lip service to those demanding an improvement in women’s political participation.
The news that a woman would head the Interior Ministry, one of four “sovereign” portfolios, had reached even those who professed to not care greatly about politics.
“This was the first time I voted. But I have no idea about the government, or who took which ministry. [However,] it is very good news that Raya El Hassan became the interior minister. Women are better than men,” Sami, a young Beiruti man on Hamra Street, said.
Hassan’s appointment sparked pride among her fellow Tripolitans.
“The number of women in Cabinet is a very positive outcome. In fact, Raya El Hassan is from a village near Tripoli, where the Hassan family is a famous family. We are very proud of this result,” said Mohammad Barakeh, a Beirut resident whose family hails from the northern port city.
Some were not convinced that the new faces would affect the current political system.
“Regarding the women [Cabinet members], I don’t think they’re going to change much because [if] you go into the government they give you restraints: You can do this, you cannot do that.
“So even if you have the intention to change they’re not going to let you,” said Marie-Chlo, a young woman from Metn who was taking an evening coffee with her friends at a popular Hamra cafe.
Nevertheless, the need for changes and a government to put them into effect was echoed across the country. “My only hope is that structural changes will take place because they are the only criteria for receiving [international] funding,” Barakeh said.
In the Bekaa Valley, one resident described how the lack of government had stifled the local economy.
“People in Bekaa are generally happy that the government has formed,” said Mahmoud Shaaban, an engineer from the town of Barr Elias. “We have traditionally relied on agriculture, especially the trade route to Damascus. The lack of a government had a negative impact on the crop exports and imports. The government, regardless of how it was formed, will contribute to the country’s development by increasing trade with other Arab countries.”
Ahmad al-Jaafil, a men’s hair stylist in Sidon, expressed hope that the new government would help ease some of the financial pressures he faced.
“God willing, the country will sort out its affairs and living standards will improve. We just want to live, not to become rich. We just want life, because we can’t be poorer than we already are,” he said.
Despite the increased number of women in Cabinet, the prevalence of familiar faces prevented some from being optimistic.
“It’s always the same people,” said Myriam Daher, a graphic designer and wardrobe stylist at a cafe in Ashrafieh. “They are not trying to make any change, so why should I care about them?
“The number of voters is decreasing but those who do vote, vote for the same people.”
Abbas Ridaa, a Lebanese-Iranian who returned to Lebanon after several years of living in northern Europe, said he didn’t believe that a new government meant anything without a change in the political system. “If we remain in this system, we will not achieve anything. We hope that this new government will agree with each other within the current [power sharing] system. But in reality, they are likely to just be interested in their own benefit.”
“It’s the same. Yesterday I was searching names [of ministers] - it’s the same people,” Marie-Chlo’s friend Lama said.
Her companion echoed Lama’s frustration: “If they wanted to do something, [if] they really had good intentions, they wouldn’t have waited nine months to actually [form] the government.”