BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Omar Karami formed a pro-Syrian 30-minister Cabinet on Tuesday excluding opposition members and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's parliamentary bloc, but, for the first time in Lebanon, naming two women to ministerial posts.
"We would have wished all parties to participate, but we could not do better," Karami, who had called for a national unity government to face the pressures on Lebanon, said from Baabda following the announcement of his new Cabinet.
The Cabinet reshuffle comes amid international pressures on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
However, Karami promised that his Cabinet will draft a new parliamentary electoral law respecting the Taif Accord, which stipulates that Syria leave Lebanon.
The Cabinet excludes anti-Syrian opposition groups, who boycotted the parliamentary consultations ahead of Karami's appointment. However, the prime minister designate said that it was the opposition that decided not to participate in his Cabinet, despite attempts he initiated in the last few days.
"We will continue to deal with the opposition to solve all difficulties placed on Lebanon," he said.
Karami's Cabinet is the first to include two women, Leila Solh, daughter of former Prime Minister Riad Solh and aunt of billionaire Saudi Prince Walid Bin Talal, and Wafaa Hamza, a Shiite close to Speaker Nabih Berri. Said Karami, "Women constitute half the Lebanese population."
Two of the most prominent portfolios, the defense and foreign ministries, were given to Syria's allies Abdel-Hamid Mrad and Mahmoud Hammoud, while Syria's strongest ally, Suleiman Franjieh, was named interior minister.
Karami named economist and former Minister Elias Saba as finance minister, at a time when his government is suffering from an estimated $35 billion national debt.
Druze Talal Arslan was named minister of the displaced, replacing his opponent Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt, who said he will not participate in any Cabinet under Lahoud's mandate in opposition to the extension of the president's term for three years on Sept. 3.
In accordance with the Taif Accord, the Cabinet must include equal Christian and Muslim representation spread between six Christian Maronites, four Christian Orthodox, three Christian Catholics, two Christian Armenians, six Shiites, six Sunnis and three Druze, headed by a Sunni Muslim prime minister.
The Cabinet was announced following extensive and lengthy consultations between Lahoud, Berri and Karami over the past five days.
Kararmi's first visit to Baabda on Tuesday was used to reach an agreement over the names appointed to some ministries.
Sources close to the Cabinet discussions said that Berri vetoed the presence of former Speaker Hussein Husseini in the Cabinet and demanded that the names of all six Shiites ministers receive his approval.
Berri, who heads the Amal Movement, issued a statement on Tuesday denying all information about a "Shiite obstacle" in the Cabinet reshuffle.
"There is no Shiite obstacle at all in the Cabinet reshuffle. Several of the names mentioned in the press are inaccurate," the statement said.
After resolving the interior ministry obstacle, granted to outgoing Health Minister Suleiman Franjieh after outgoing Interior Minister Elias Murr announced he would not participate in the next Cabinet, other difficulties emerged over the past 24 hours concerning the names to be appointed in the culture and education ministries.
Sources said that while Lahoud wanted to grant the Education Ministry to Bsharri MP Qabalan Issa Khoury's nephew Ibrahim Daher, Karami wanted the post for Sami Minkara or Tammam Salam.
"Salam wanted the Public Works and Transportation or the Education Ministry, but we could not offer him either of the two portfolios. We hope to include him in future cabinets," Karami said.
Sources said that former Beirut MP Tammam Salam also wanted a prominent ministry as none of Beirut's main figures were handed a portfolio.
Hariri's parliamentary bloc, which includes 17 Beirut MPs, announced last week it would not participate in the next cabinet. It also refrained last Thursday from naming a prime minister during the compulsory parliamentary consultations with Lahoud.
Early before heading to Baabda, Karami said from his residence in Ramlet al-Baida that the delay in the Cabinet reshuffle was due to obstacles concerning names more than allotted portfolios.
Karami also received a delegation from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party headed by the party's president Gebran Araiji and a delegation from the Phalange Party, two visits which were kept away from the media.
The new Cabinet excludes members of the opposition, such as Jumblatt's Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, the Qornet Shehwan Gathering and any ally of Hariri.
Karami's extensive attempts to include members of the opposition in his Cabinet failed late Monday. The opposition groups, although not opposing Karami personally, are determined not to participate in a cabinet that falls short concerning basic national objectives, such as implementing the Taif Accord.
They have also repeatedly said that the next cabinet will not bring any improvement to the current situation.
"We refused to participate in the next cabinet knowing ... that the opposition would be a minority and could not make any difference to face the majority of pro-regime parties and forces that are determined to keep the situation going as it is now," said Qornet Shehwan Gathering member Batroun MP Butros Harb in a statement Tuesday.
Until late Monday night, Karami was still trying to convince both Harb and Zghorta MP Nayla Mouawad to join his Cabinet. However, his initiatives failed when the opposition groups said they would not participate in a cabinet that lacks reform plans.
What remains to be seen following the Cabinet reshuffle is whether it will be granted the confidence of Parliament, which requires the vote of 86 out of its 128 MPs.
According to Article 64 of the Constitution, "The Cabinet does not exercise its powers before it gains Parliament's confidence."
The 29 MPs who voted against the constitutional amendment of the extension of Lahoud's term may refuse to cast their vote for the new Cabinet. However, such a number would not affect the Cabinet's legitimacy. But if Hariri's parliamentary bloc decided not to vote in favor of the government, in addition to the 29 other MPs, Karami's Cabinet would not be able to exercise its powers.
On Wednesday morning the ministers will go to the Cabinet offices in Beirut, form a committee and issue a ministerial statement that needs to receive Parliament's vote of confidence before the ministers start exercising their powers.
Lineup of new cabinet
Prime Minister: Omar Karami Deputy Premier: Issam Fares
Finance Minister: Elias Saba
Information Minister: Elie Ferzli
Minister of State: Albert Mansour
Interior Minister: Suleiman Franjieh
Minister of the Displaced: Talal Arslan
Education Minister: Sami Minkara
Defense Minister: Abdel-Rahim Mrad
Public Works and Transport Minister: Yassin Jaber
Social Affairs Minister: Ghazi Zeaiter
State Minister: Karam Karam
Sports and Youth Minister: Sebouh Hovnanian
Foreign Minister: Mahmoud Hammoud
Telecommunications Minister: Jean-Louis Qordahi
Agriculture Minister: Elias Skaff
Labor Minister: Assem Qanso
Tourism Minister: Farid Khazen
Economy Minister: Adnan Qassar
Minister of State: Mahmoud Abdel-Khaleq
Justice Minister: Adnan Addoum
Culture Minister: Naji Boustany
Energy Minister: Maurice Sehnawi
Industry Minister: Leila Solh
Minister of State for Administrative Development: Ibrahim Daher
Minister of State: Youssef Salameh
Health Minister: Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh
Minister of State: Wafaa Hamzeh
Minister of State: Alain Tabourian
Environment Minister: Wi'am Wahab