Lebanon's New Leader Vows To Bridge Divides There were angry and at times violent protests across Lebanon on Tuesday, after a politician backed by Hezbollah was named prime minister. Najib Mikati is a Sunni and a billionaire, who pledged Tuesday that "his hand is extended to all Lebanese, Muslims and Christians." For more, host Melissa Block speaks to Rami Khouri, director of the Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, and a syndicated columnist at the Daily Star in Lebanon.
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Lebanon's New Leader Vows To Bridge Divides

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Lebanon's New Leader Vows To Bridge Divides

Lebanon's New Leader Vows To Bridge Divides

Lebanon's New Leader Vows To Bridge Divides

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There were angry and at times violent protests across Lebanon on Tuesday, after a politician backed by Hezbollah was named prime minister. Najib Mikati is a Sunni and a billionaire, who pledged Tuesday that "his hand is extended to all Lebanese, Muslims and Christians." For more, host Melissa Block speaks to Rami Khouri, director of the Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, and a syndicated columnist at the Daily Star in Lebanon.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Rami Khouri joins me now from Beirut. He's a columnist with the Daily Star in Lebanon. Welcome to the program.

RAMI KHOURI: Thank you.

BLOCK: We've heard Najib Mikati billing himself as a consensus candidate. What can you tell us about his connections with Hezbollah, who backed him as prime minister, his ties with Syria, say, or Iran?

KHOURI: The reason he was chosen is precisely because he comes, you know, right down the middle. He's a kid of Gerry Ford figure, in a way, in American terms. He is seen to be somebody who can bring together the fighting or feuding Lebanese groups.

BLOCK: If the new prime minister is this right-down-the-middle figure that you describe, why have there been chants at the protest today among Sunnis saying Sunni blood is boiling?

KHOURI: Well, first of all, the expression blood is boiling is really rhetorical, the equivalent of somebody in the United States saying I'm mad as hell, or I'm going to kick his ass or something like that. These are rhetorical expressions. So when you translate it into English, it sounds like really something terrible. But when you say that (foreign language spoken), it means your blood is boiling, it just means you're really angry.

BLOCK: Well, why are they angry?

KHOURI: But the tendency to resolve these conflicts and prevent fighting clearly for several years has been greater than the tendency to give in to these impulses and get out on the street and start shooting each other and fighting, and I think that's going to prevail.

BLOCK: There is, though, another hot-button issue, and that has to do with the U.N. tribunal's investigation into the killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. There are sealed indictments in that case, and they're expected to name members of Hezbollah. So what has the new prime minister, Najib Mikati, said about that? If he has the backing of Hezbollah, would you assume that he has agreed to cut ties with the tribunal?

KHOURI: So I think his sense is that you have to find a middle ground, where the tribunal can perhaps continue its work, but to disassociate it from the direct association and structural involvement of the Lebanese government, that's the path that Mikati has to try to walk.

BLOCK: Rami Khouri, thanks very much for talking with us.

KHOURI: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: Rami Khouri is director of the Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. He's also a columnist with the Daily Star in Lebanon.

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