Lebanon News

Looking back on almost 7 decades of Cabinet crises

BEIRUT: The months-long long Cabinet impasse that ended Monday is nothing new in Lebanese politics; there have been many such crises since independence in 1943.

In September 1952, Prime Minister Sami Solh resigned, accusing figures close to President Beshara Khoury of corruption and of hindering reform. Khoury, who was facing mounting opposition calls for his resignation, tasked Saeb Salam with forming a government, but Salam rejected the offer.

Khoury resigned in September and handed power to a transitional Cabinet headed by Army Commander General Fouad Shehab, which oversaw the election of President Camille Chamoun.

The first Cabinet during the tenure of Shehab, Chamoun’s successor, collapsed one month later under fierce opposition by Christian parties – a new Cabinet was formed, headed by Hussein Oweini.

The influx of Palestine Liberation Organization fighters to Lebanon in the 1960s divided political factions over the PLO’s right to launch military operations against Israel from Lebanon. While Lebanese leftist parties and most Muslims endorsed the PLO operations, Christian parties said the acts violated Lebanon’s sovereignty.

On April 24, 1969, Karami, nominated by President Charles Helou for the premiership, resigned over the division of support for PLO activities.

After months of Cabinet impasse that included armed clashes between PLO fighters and the Lebanese army, Karami, whose nomination was refloated by Helou, formed his Cabinet after the signing of the November 1969 Cairo Agreement, which let the PLO run refugee camps and launch operations against Israel from the south.

More crises came during the tenure of President Suleiman Franjieh. In April 1973, Prime Minister Salam resigned after Franjieh failed to sack Army Commander General Iskandar Ghanem over the army’s failure to confront an Israeli commando force that assassinated three PLO commanders in Beirut.

Amin Hafez formed a government but resigned shortly afterward, and before winning a vote of confidence, as clashes escalated between the army and PLO fighters.

Prime Minister Rashid Solh’s government resigned in 1975, holding the Kataeb responsible for ambushing a busload of Palestinians on April 13 in Ain al-Rummaneh, the spark for the war. Franjieh nominated retired General Noureddine Rifai, to form a military Cabinet tasked with restoring order. But the Cabinet resigned three days later, under fire from the National Movement and Muslim and Christian political figures. A Cabinet was then formed by Karami, who suspended his Cabinet functions in November 1975 after he accused the Lebanese army of arming Christian factions.

Dueling Cabinets resulted when President Amin Gemayel handed over power to a government headed by Army Commander General Michel Aoun in September 1988, as Salim Hoss headed a rival government.

Following the 1989 Taif Accord, Cabinets were formed with relative ease between 1990 and 2005, but the crises resurfaced after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Syria’s withdrawal in 2005.

In November 2006, ministers from Amal and Hezbollah resigned from the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, over government policy vis-à-vis the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The Cabinet continued its functions despite the absence of Shiite ministers.

Hezbollah and Amal dubbed the Cabinet illegitimate because they claimed it violated the National Pact of confessional power-sharing and staged along with their allies a sit-in near the Grand Serail. The sit-in continued until May 2008, when Lebanese leaders inked the Doha accord to end several weeks of armed clashes earlier in the month.

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




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