Doomsday threats

MP.Tammam Salam appears during the Arab Women Forum's conference in the Four Seasons hotel in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

As reports emerged over the weekend that the prime minister-designate, Tammam Salam, was on the verge of presenting his Cabinet lineup to President Michel Sleiman, a host of March 8 politicians were busy issuing threats.

They said that any government that was “forced upon them” would be not only rejected, but would categorically lead to a dangerous new level of destabilization in Lebanon.

For now, it appears that a new government is not imminent, and the country’s wisest heads have prevailed. Politicians might have every right to move forward with suggesting the kind of government they feel will best serve the country’s interests, but when faced with intransigence, and the latent threat of force to back up the warnings, it is imperative to consider the larger question: Can Lebanon survive such a dangerous destabilization at this critical time? If a confrontation in the streets begins, does anyone have guarantees about how it will end, and at what cost?

However, in the end, those issuing the doomsday threats should take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror. Do they believe that a Cabinet made up of neutral figures, who can form a cohesive team and bring some much-needed order to the central government, truly deserves to be confronted by threats?

The politicians who have been busy issuing the threats should realize that when they dominated the Cabinet, in terms of numbers, little of consequence was achieved. One step forward in certain areas was accompanied by two steps backward in many others; the performance of some ministers was more about making public declarations of progress, while clamping down on transparency and accountability. In short, the March 8 camp should realize that the public wants the country to move forward – a steady drumbeat of loud and threatening objections to technocratic ministers assuming office does nothing to help the situation.

The unfortunate commotion over forming a new government, meanwhile, is actually a side effect of the failure of March 8, while it was dominating the government, to make any progress on a new parliamentary election law.

The Cabinet formation saga will drag on this week while another drama will play itself out at Nijmeh Square. Politicians have been unable to forge an agreement on a new electoral law, and there are few signs that a miracle solution will appear this week, as MPs are scheduled to gather for a general assembly session. Instead of producing a durable solution on the election law – a fundamentally important aspect of any democratic system – politicians have given no indication that there is hope for resolving this thorny issue. Governments come and go, but the basis of the entire system is sound representation, and the priority should be to encourage the thousands upon thousands of disaffected Lebanese to take their political system seriously.

The only way to restore a bit of health to Lebanon’s politics is to produce a consensus-based agreement on the election law; if that is solved, then the task of forming governments will become a great deal easier.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 13, 2013, on page 1.




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