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

But cabinet headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab and backed by Hezbollah seen as unlikely to satisfy protests that have shaken the country

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with Prime Minister-Designate Hassan Diab at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, January 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with Prime Minister-Designate Hassan Diab at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, January 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A new Cabinet was announced in crisis-hit Lebanon late Tuesday, breaking a months-long impasse amid ongoing mass protests against the country’s ruling elite.

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.

Lebanese media said the new government was formed thanks to a deal between Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Shiite terror group, and its allies. Two of the new ministers are backed by Hezbollah, including the health minister, the reports said.

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 the small Mediterranean country has faced in decades.

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab, right, shakes hands with outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 20, 2019 (Dalati Nohra via AP)

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 his 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.

Lebanese protesters take cover behind a barricade amid clashes with riot police guarding a road leading to parliament in central Beirut on January 19, 2020. (PATRICK BAZ?AFP)

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

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

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 general Mohammed Fahmi was named minister of the interior. Zeina Akar was named minister of defense and deputy prime minister.

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