New government in crisis-hit Lebanon ends 3-month vacuum

Breaking a months-long impasse amid ongoing mass protests against the country’s ruling elite.
by Georgi Azar

21 January 2020 | 22:21

Source: by Annahar

  • by Georgi Azar
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 21 January 2020 | 22:21

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, center, meets with Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab, right, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, left, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (AP Photo)

BEIRUT: After three months of political turmoil, a government was finally formed Tuesday with Lebanon teetering on the brink of an economic collapse.

Hassan Diab, a 60-year-old professor at the American University of Beirut, now heads a Cabinet of 20 members, mostly specialists backed by political parties.

The move, which comes three months after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, is unlikely to satisfy protesters. They have been calling for sweeping reforms and a government made up of independent technocrats that could deal with the country’s crippling economic and financial crisis, the worst this tiny Mediterranean country has faced in decades.

The country has been without a government since Hariri resigned on Oct. 29, two weeks into the unprecedented nationwide protest movement.

The new government is mostly comprised of March 8 affiliates and their allies after the now-defunct March 14 camp announced its non-participation months ago.

Hezbollah, Amal Movement, Free Patriotic Movement, and Marada are all represented in the government, which is bound to bring the ire of demonstrators.

Shortly before the Cabinet was announced, thousands of people poured into the street closing major roads in the capital Beirut and other parts of the country in rejection of the new government. Their anger was directed at political groups, saying they had named the new ministers.

“It’s time to get to work,” Diab said in a speech addressing the country following the announcement.

He saluted the protesters in the street and vowed to “work to fulfill your demands,” claiming that he was the first government in the history of Lebanon to be made up entirely of technocrats. He insisted the 20 ministers were specialists who had no political loyalties and were not partisan.

Diab appealed to citizens to help the government implement a “rescue program” and said this Cabinet has the “capability and qualifications, will and commitment” to carry it through.

Among the ministers named were five women, including the minister of defense and deputy prime minister.

For three months, the leaderless protests have been calling for a government made up of specialists that can work on dealing with the economic crisis. The protests have recently turned violent, with around 500 people injured in violent confrontations between protesters and security forces over the weekend.

Although the government announced Tuesday is technically made up of specialists, the ministers were named by political parties in a process involving horse-trading and bickering with little regard for the demands of protesters for a transparent process and neutral, independent candidates.

The heads of the main ministries include career diplomat Naseef Hitti for the Foreign Ministry. Economist Ghazi Wazni was named finance minister and former army Gen. Mohammed Fahmi was named minister of the interior. Zeina Akar was named minister of defense and deputy prime minister.

Demienos Kattar, an independent nominated by Diab, will take on the role of Environment Minister and Administrative Development.

Tarek Majzoub, also nominated by Diab, was named Education Minister.

What started out as a peaceful gathering in front of Parliament's main entrance in downtown Beirut turned violent as night fell, with demonstrators able to breach a security wall set up by security forces.

Riot police then responded with tear gas, momentarily pushing protesters back. Moments later, a Molotov cocktail hit police stationed behind the security perimeter, with flames nearly engulfing one member.

— with AP

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