Hassan Diab forms 20-minister Cabinet

Designate Prime Minister Hassan Diab meets with President Michel Aoun and Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. (Washington Post) - Lebanese government talks
Designate Prime Minister Hassan Diab meets with President Michel Aoun and Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. (Washington Post)

Prime Minister Hassan Diab Tuesday formed a 20-minister government made up mostly of technocrats who were chosen by political parties traditionally allied with the Syrian regime, in what is known as a “one-color” government.

In an address to the Lebanese Public from the presidential palace in Baabda following the announcement, Diab said his Cabinet would work for the independence of the judiciary, the return of funds stolen from Lebanese state coffers, will fight illicit enrichment, protect low-income families, fight unemployment and work to endorse a new electoral law.

Many off these issues reflect the demands of the unprecedented protest movement that has swept Lebanon since Oct. 17, bringing down the government of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Diab said his government was “the first government in the history of Lebanon that has the strong specifications to save the country, and I salute the revolution that pushed in this direction. Lebanon won.”

The new government has been formed nearly three months after Hariri’s government fell on Oct. 29, and just over a month after Diab was tasked with forming a government.

Diab had met with President Michel Aoun at around 8 p.m. Tuesday, soon after which Speaker Nabih Berri joined the meeting, as is protocol when a new government is formed. Berri then left Baabda Palace, and Aoun signed the necessary decrees for Diab’s government to be appointed.

The Cabinet is said to hold its inaugural meeting at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Diab said.

It includes six female ministers: Zaina Akar for defense and the deputy premiership, as well as Information Minister Manale Abdelsamad, Youth and Sports Minister Varte Ohanian, Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najem, Minister for the Displaced Ghada Shreim and Labor Minister Lama Yammine.

The government is supported by Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Marada Movement and Druze politician Talal Arslan.

The Composition

It is composed as follows:

Diab’s share includes four ministers including himself, Interior Minister Mohammad Fahmi (a retired Maj. Gen.), Education Minister Tarek Majzoub (a sitting judge on the Shura Council) and Environment Minister and State Minister for Administrative Development Demianos Kattar (a former finance minister).

Six pro-Hezbollah Sunni MP’s known as the “Consultative Gathering” named one minister: Telecoms Minister Talal Hawwat. Hawat, an engineer, has worked in several tech and telecoms companies.

The Free Patriotic Movement meanwhile named six ministers, including Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar (an advisor to former FPM energy ministers), Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti (a former Lebanese ambassador to the Arab League), Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Zaina Akar, Justice Minister Marie Claude-Najem (Director of the Centre of Legal Studies and Research for the Arab World at the University of St. Joseph), Economy Minister Raul Naame and Minister for the Displaced Ghada Shreim.

Hezbollah named two ministers: Health Minister Hammad Hasan (a doctor and former head of Baalbeck-Hermel union of municipalities) and Industry Minister Imad Hoballah, who is also a medical doctor.

The Amal Movement named Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, an economist and advisor to Amal head and Speaker Nabih Berri, and Agriculture Minister Abbas Murtada, who local media reported was an Amal Movement official in the Bekaa.

The Marada Movement named two ministers, including Public Works Minister Michel Najjar the Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Balamand University, and Labor Minister Lama Yammine.

Ramzi Musharafieh, a medical doctor, will head the environment and social affairs ministries and Manale Abdelsamad will head the Information Ministry from Druze politician Talal Arslan’s share.

Youth and Sports Minister Varte Ohanian was reportedly named by the Armenian Tashnag party.

The Street Disapproves

Even before the government was announced, protesters gathered to block roads across Beirut and the country. The main north-south highway was blocked by burning tires at Naame south of Beirut north of Beirut near Jounieh and around Tripoli in north Lebanon.

Roads were closed across Beirut, including near the Sports City, Qasqas and at the Mazraa area, while people also gathered at the Beirut Ring Road without blocking it.

Several hundred protesters gathered near Lebanon’s Parliament, the scene of violent clashes over the last weekend in which some 500 people were injured. Rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said security forces used excessive force during a crackdown over the weekend.

Asked of the way security forces had dealt with protesters of the weekend, the newly inaugurated interior minister said the response by security forces had been “appropriate” but acknowledges “there were some mistakes.”

He said that “those who had made mistakes will be held accountable.”

The top-trending hashtag on Twitter Tuesday night was #حكومه_الفشل which translates to “The government of failure.”

Protesters have noted that Diab’s government was formed in the same way as previous governments, namely by horse-trading between political parties over their respective shares.

Protesters have, since the beginning of the uprising nearly 100 days ago, called for the formation of a government of independent experts to steer the country through its worst economic and financial crisis in a generation.

They also want it to endorse a new, non-sectarian electoral law and oversee early elections.

Timour Azhari is a Beirut-based journalist.