Whose Lebanon?

It took Lebanon's prime minister from January until just last week to put together a new cabinet and obtain the parliament's approval for it.

Lebanese opposition leader Fouad Siniora stood on the parliamentary dais Thursday and, with his soft voice and sarcastic wit, took to task the policy document of the new government, headed by billionaire businessman Najib Mikati. "Many important things are written in this policy document, but they say nothing," he mocked. Five years after the Second Lebanon War, Siniora, who was Lebanon's prime minister at the time, can speak only as an opposition member of parliament.

It took the prime minister from January until just last week to put together a new cabinet and obtain the parliament's approval for it.

The  Lebanese parliament - AFP - July 10 2011

Siniora, 68, will not be in the new government. Lebanon needs his expertise, but he is an ally and close adviser of Saad Hariri, whose father Rafik Hariri, also a former prime minister, was assassinated in 2005. Siniora and the elder Hariri were also allies.

Nor will Saad Hariri be in the new cabinet, which was shaped by Hezbollah and by Michel Aoun, the Maronite Catholic general who switched from being a staunch opponent of Syria to being an ally, and by Nabih Beri, the Shi'ite speaker of the parliament. It was also shaped by Syria and by Iran.

Hezbollah and its partners will fill 16 of the cabinet's 30 seats, portfolios, and thus will be able to continue dictating policy.

Mikati wanted representatives from Hariri's Future Movement to join the government and lend it legitimacy, but Hariri refused. The Future Movement won a majority in the 2009 election but Hariri's government fell apart after he rejected Hezbollah's demand to prevent the International Criminal Court from investigating his father's murder.

With Mikati's government Hezbollah has closed a circle that began with the Second Lebanon War. When it ended Hezbollah was forced to accept UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was based on guidelines formulated by Siniora during the cease-fire talks.

The resolution authorized the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon to act against the rearmament of Hezbollah and gave the Lebanese army control of southern Lebanon. For the first time Hezbollah Secretary General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was forced to admit he had made a mistake.

But south Lebanon is in the hands of Hezbollah, which has not ceased its arms buildup. Nasrallah, criticized in Lebanon and by Arab leaders for driving wedges between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria over the 2006 war - is now Lebanon's kingmaker. He toppled Siniora as premier and destroyed Hariri's cabinet. The new government will have not have the option of ignoring Nasrallah's "recommendations" when it comes, as it soon will, to appoint a new chief of staff and a new head of internal security.

And what of the international court's investigation? Nasrallah has categorically refused to cooperate, and soon he will demand that Lebanon repeal the law funding 49 percent of its expenses.

It is a slap in the face of Mikati, who had still attempted to argue that Beirut was meeting its international obligations, and could put Lebanon on a collision course with the UN, the United States and France just as it needs the generosity of the donor nations.

Time Out Beirut offers extensive listings for movies, galleries, performances and jazz clubs this summer. But the uprising in Syria, and Lebanon's attendant absorption of thousands of refugees, threatens to disrupt even the traditional international festivals in Baalbek and Batroun. Branches of Lebanese banks account for one third of all banking activity in Syria, so that sector could also be hard-hit.

But Lebanon has the genetic structure of a phoenix, rising from the ashes each time its death seems certain. Now, however, it's Hezbollah's turn to make good on its promises. It is the government.