Meet Lebanon’s 24 new ministers, one by one

Thirteen months since Hassan Diab resigned, Lebanon formed a new government made up of old and familiar faces. Wealthy telecoms tycoon Najib Mikati sits at the head of this 24-minister cabinet.

Beirut Today breaks down the new government, looking into each minister’s past and political ties as they slowly begin to officially take over their public duties.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati

Mikati is a billionaire businessman and the head of two previous governments. This will be the third government he heads in his lifetime.

Between 1998 and 2003, Mikati was Minister of Public Works and Transport, before heading an interim government following the assassination of ex-PM Rafic el Hariri. He was a member of parliament for Tripoli between 2000 and 2005, and was re-elected in 2009 and 2018.

He is the subject of multiple corruption accusations. In 2019, state prosecutor Ghada Aoun pressed charges against Mikati, his brother Taha, and his son over illegitimate enrichment via the theft of millions of dollars meant for low and middle-income families as subsidized housing loans. He denied the charges.

The businessman is known for having close ties to Syria’s dejected president Bashar al-Assad. He operated several telecom projects in Syria, Lebanon, and beyond.

According to Forbes, he and his brother Taha are the richest men in Lebanon. Each has a net worth of $2.9 billion as of late 2021.

The brothers co-founded investment firm M1 Group, which has stakes in South African telecom firm MTN, fashion retailer Pepe Jeans, and real estate across New York, London, and Monaco.

M1 recently announced a $330 million dollar investment in Myanmar’s telecoms sector. The company will control one of the four main telecom operators.

The brothers also sold satellite phones during Lebanon’s Civil War, through co-founding Investcom. They sold them to friends and associates in Beirut for $50,000 apiece, according to Forbes. Later, they expanded and built cellphone towers in Ghana, Liberia, and Benin among other African countries. South Africa’s MTN bought the brothers’ stake in Investcom in 2009 for $3.6 billion.

Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh al-Shami

Al-Shami is an economist, academic and Lebanese politician who is a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. 

He is a previous professor and ex-head of the Graduate School of Business at the American University of Beirut (AUB) between the years 1987 and 1993. For 20 years of his career, he worked at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) where he focused on the fields of economic policies and financial and economic reform strategies. His last position at the IMF included assistant to the director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department. 

Between 2005 and 2006, he headed a specialized team to create a comprehensive economic reform program for Lebanon under the finance ministry.

He was also named as the minister of economy in the rejected cabinet proposal submitted by ex-premier Saad Hariri to President Michel Aoun in July 2021.

Finance Minister Youssef Khalil

Khalil was a senior official at the Central Bank of Lebanon and reportedly the architect of Lebanon’s infamous “financial engineering.” He is known to be close to BDL governor Riad Salameh.

Following his appointment as Finance Minister, Khalil denied his involvement in the financial engineering of Central Bank.

“The Central Bank means a lot to me, and we accomplished a lot across the years,” he said. “I don’t take part in developing its plans. There’s a basic structure to BdL and the majority of central banks across the world. I am an executive director and do not participate in developing plans.”

He holds a PhD in Economics from the Center for Studies and Research on International Development “CERDI” in France. He has a Master’s degree in Economic Development from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom  and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from AUB.

In 1989, he became a professor at AUB, teaching development studies, managerial economics, growth theories, and economic history. He was selected by Speaker Berri for the new government, and is affiliated with the Amal Movement.

Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib

Bou Habib is most prominently known for being Lebanon’s ambassador to the United States between 1983 and 1990. He also worked at the World Bank in 1976 as an economist, and then as chief loan officer in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

He is an AUB graduate and holds a PhD in Economics from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Currently, he is the managing director of a Lebanese think tank, and helped establish the Issam Fares Center in 2007. He has been a lecturer at Al-Hikmah University since 2002, in addition to regularly contributing to many newspapers and media websites. 

Bou Habib was a childhood friend of Amin and Bachir Gemayel, with the prior appointing him as ambassador to Washington for almost seven years. When Gemayel’s term ended in 1988, Bou Habib sided with General (and current president) Michel Aoun at a time when two rival governments divided Lebanon.

When Elias Hrawi was elected as the new Lebanese president, he fired the Aoun-appointed Bou Habib. Aoun told him to remain in Washington, where a court battle and secret service agents would eventually force him out of his post to allow Hrawi’s ambassador to take over.

Defense Minister Maurice Slim

Slim is a retired Brigadier General who served as the Chief of Military Healthcare until his retirement in 2012. Prior to that, he held several leadership positions across army field units and command staff.

He joined the military academy in 1972 and graduated as a lieutenant in the Artillery Regiment. He is licensed in law from the Lebanese University and in military staff from the United States Army Command and General Staff College –a graduate school for US army and sister service officers, interagency representatives, and international military officers.

He was selected by President Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement for Mikati’s government line-up.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi

Mawlawi is a judge from Tripoli, Lebanon with nearly 30 years of experience at court. He joined the judiciary in 1993, taking on several positions before becoming the head of the North’s Criminal Court in 2017. 

Mawlawi became the first judge in the North Governorate’s history to hold an electronic session due to the closure of courts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I did my duties in the judiciary for 30 years without being affiliated with any party,” said Mawlawi after being appointed as minister. “We are affiliated with Lebanon and its people, and we will work in the name of the people.”

He told Annahar, “We are with the military and for their comfort, so that citizens can rest. If one of these two parties is tired, the other will also be tired.”

The official added in a TV interview that his ministry will deal with protests “according to principles and the law, without weakness and without cruelty. We will deal lovingly with protesters, whether they are in Tripoli or elsewhere, and we will protect public and private properties.”

Health Minister Firass Abiad

Abiad is most famous for his role in raising awareness during the start and peak of Lebanon’s coronavirus outbreak.

He is the current manager and CEO of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, which became Lebanon’s leading hospital in treating COVID-19 patients. He is also a gastrointestinal surgeon at AUB.

Abiad has no known ties to the establishment, and is regarded as an “independent” figure. He was chosen by Saad Hariri as the Health Minister for Mikati’s government.

His tweets are the subject of much attention, and are regularly cited in articles.

“Bearing responsibility in times of crises is a duty towards the nation and society,” he tweeted following his appointment. “It is a task that is asked about in this world and in the hereafter. Health is a right, and people care about what one will do to solve their problems and not what they have done before. That is understood…”

Abiad graduated from AUB’s Faculty of Medicine in 1993, and later earned a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the university in 2013.

Energy Minister Walid Fayad

Fayad is the Managing Director for the MENA region at Partners in Performance. Previously, he worked in senior roles at Booz Allen Hamilton and McKinsey.

The new Energy Minister was a defendant in a recent lawsuit by Booz Allen Hamilton, with court documents saying he was fired for misusing and disclosing confidential information to a competitor and was facing a trial after accusations of financial misconduct. Fayyad and another executive were accused of using BAH funds to solicit their personnel to join a competitor.

“Defendants’ misconduct included, without limitation, their misappropriation and improper expenditure of BAH Inc. funds and resources for travel, hotel, and other expenses in order to secretly meet with senior leaders of Competitor concerning their potential employment,” reads a court document.

Fayyad has denied all allegations, and the case was settled out of court.

Multiple sexual harassment allegations have also emerged on social media against the minister in recent days. Fayyad has not addressed them yet.

Justice Minister Henri Khoury

Khoury is a retired judge and former head of the Shura Council. He retired in 2019, two years before his appointment as Justice Minister.

He studied at Saint Joseph University and joined the judiciary in 1994, serving in Zahle, Jounieh, Bekaa, and Mount Lebanon. He took up several positions in his time as a judge, acting as the head of the first chamber of the Courts of First Instance in Mount Lebanon for real estate cases between 1997 and 2002, and as the head of the second chamber of the Mount Lebanon Court of Appeal for felonies in 2009 and beyond until his appointment as the head of the Shura Council.

In his first statement released on Friday, Khoury discussed the Beirut blast investigation. “I have no authority over the judge, who is doing his job in accordance with the constitution. The confidentiality of the investigation does not allow me to look into it, and I will not become involved with this case’s political disputes.”

 The minister also said that his powers are defined by constitutional texts, and that he will exercise his powers without going beyond or beneath them.

Economy Minister Amin Salam

Salam is an international corporate lawyer and economist. He holds a degree in International and Comparative Law from George Washington University and a law degree from Al-Hikmah University.

The minister is not well-known in Lebanon, working mostly in the United States.

He often describes himself as an “International Law & Economic Development Executive”, and works as an international consultant in economics and social development, management, strategic leadership, public affairs, and communications.

He previously held the position of Vice President of the National American-Arab Chamber of Commerce (NUSACC).

He was appointed by PM Mikati, and DC-based professionals were quick to voice their skepticism over his appointment to such a key ministry, which will be dealing with the IMF over a bailout and restructuring debt for Lebanon.

Public Works Minister Ali Hamie

Hamie is a professor and researcher in optical telecommunications. His social media profiles say he is a telecom expert in the Lebanese parliament, a quality assurance specialist and a cybersecurity specialist.

He holds a Ph.D. in optical communications from the University of Western Brittany.

Hamie is also a higher education consultant, as well as the ex-vice president, dean of the Faculty of Engineering, and dean of the Faculty of Sciences and Fine Arts at the Arts, Sciences and Technology University in Lebanon (AUL). The minister has also previously worked as a lecturer of antenna design and propagation, and optical communications at the Lebanese University.

His previous experience includes being an external quality auditor at the Gulf College, a senior researcher at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and a member of the Council of Ministers of Lebanon to implement a national strategy for cybersecurity.

He is also a French national, and one of the two-Hezbollah appointed ministers.

Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar

Born in 1965, Hajjar has a doctorate in Dentistry from the Lebanese University and a license in Social Activism from Saint Joseph University.

Today, he works as a dentist and the founder of several organizations to serve underprivileged communities and those with disabilities.

He is the general manager of the Massage de Paix NGO, which was founded in 1997 to assist adults with mental disabilities using specialized programs and currently operates under the guidance of the Maronite Bishop Guy Paul.

He was selected by the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by President Aoun and headed by Gebran Bassil. Hajjar has denied his involvement with the party, saying he has “no political commitment” despite the fact that Aoun himself nominated Hajjar for the new government.

The minister caused a storm on social media for previous remarks on baby diapers being luxuries rather than a need, and how we should start consuming tap water –bearing in mind Lebanon’s contaminated water and rusty infrastructure.

“China, the economic empire, does not use diapers to this day,” said Hajjar, advocating for the use of reusable cloth diapers to save money.

He affirmed his knowledge of China’s consumption habits by adding he has visited the country for 11 years. However, around 1.45 million tons of diapers were used in China in 2018. The volume of use was projected to reach nearly two million tons by 2023.

The use of cloth diapers has also, so far, wielded marginal savings that do not pay off in the first year.

Education Minister Abbas Halabi

Halabi holds a Lebanese Law degree from St. Joseph University (USJ), a diploma in European Community Law from the France-based European University Center of Nancy, and a diploma in Comparative Law from the International Center of Comparative Law of Paris.

Halabi is a former judge and a member of the Board of Directors and Legal Counsel at the Bank of Beirut and the Arab Countries (BBAC). 

He is a former judge and USJ professor, and has served in a variety of positions, including member of various committees such as the National Committee for Islamic-Christian Dialogue. He is also the co-founder of the Arab Islamic-Christian Group for the Islamic-Christian Dialogue. He is also Vice-President of the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO.

He is a founding member of the Walid Jumblatt Foundation for University Studies and the Druze Council for Research and Development.

He was nominated on behalf of the Progressive Socialist Party for his position, specifically by President Walid Jumblatt.

Information Minister George Kordahi

Kordahi is a renowned media personality and TV presenter, most famous for being the first Arab presenter of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in Arabic.

Kordahi is Maronite, and part of the Marada movement.

He first started his career by working for the newspaper Lisan al Hal in 1970, followed by working for Tele Liban in 1973. He immigrated to France during the start of the Lebanese civil war, and in 1979, was appointed Editor-in-chief of the Radio Monte Carlo in Paris. In 1992, he worked for Sharq Radio Station for around two years. In 1994, he was recruited to head MBC FM in London.

In 2012, he was hired by Al Hayat TV to host “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, “Al-Mosameh Karim” and “Hafez wala Fahem.”

He is married to Ida Kassar and is the father of three children. He emigrated back to Lebanon and currently resides in his hometown of Feytroun. He also has his own brand of perfume, called G.K.

Following his appointment as minister, Kordahi was condemned by journalists and media freedom watchdogs for informally asking media in the country not to host “some of the geniuses and analysts” who are critical of the new government.

“Let them allow us [to work] and calm down a little,” he said, asking the media “not to host them because the government is new.”

Labor Minister Moustafa Bayram

Bayram has served in a number of positions across the government since 1998. The Hezbollah MP, chosen by Amal Movement head Nabih Berri as the Labor Minister, has a diploma in Public Law from LU, a Diploma in General Law from BAU, and a Master’s degree in financial law from the Islamic University.

Bayram was appointed head legal observer in the audit department of Lebanon’s Council of Ministers in 1998, and has also worked as a trainer in management and self-development since 2014 with the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI), Kuwait’s Arab Planning Institute, the Gulf Development Forum, Lebanon’s Audit Bureau, and Al-Mustafa School.

Industry Minister George Boujikian

Boujikian holds a diploma in Job Evaluation, Management of Training First, Management of Costs and Control, Planning and Production, among a few others, from Canadian universities. 

He is the only Lebanese-Armenian in the current government, and also holds Canadian citizenship. Boujikian is representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Tashnag) political party.

He is a businessman, and previous CEO of multiple companies in Lebanon and the Middle East. Boujikian is a council member of the Medical Equipment Syndicate in Lebanon and the president of The Development Council of Anjar.

Agriculture Minister Abbas Hajj Hassan

Born in Shaath, Baalbek, Hajj Hassan was educated in France and worked as a journalist in Paris for France 24. He has a French passport.

Hajj Hassan holds a PhD in Political Science and International Relations from the University of Toulouse. He also holds a Master’s degree in Law from the same university, an MA in International Relations and Diplomacy from the Beirut Arab University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Law and Political science from the Lebanese University.

He also holds a university diploma preparatory for a doctorate on the Lebanese water crisis and Israeli ambitions in it from the University of Perpignan in France.

He was nominated on behalf of Hezbollah.

In an Al-Jadeed interview, Hajj Hassan said Prime Minister Mikati will work quickly to rescue the economy.

“I am the son of a farmer and my family works in agriculture, so we are aware of what farmers need and the problems they face,” he told Al-Jadeed. “Sadly, farmers are among the poor in Lebanon and we need an agricultural plan and a lot of work.”

He also stressed Syria as the only passageway Lebanon has to the Arab World.

Youth and Sports Minister George Kallas

Kallas was born in 1953 and holds two doctorates in Arabic literature from the Antonine University and the Lebanese University. Throughout his lifetime, he has published 17 books on the topics of media, linguistics, and feminism.

He also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Arabic Language and Literature, a Bachelor’s degree in Law and Administrative Sciences, and a Master’s in Linguistics from the Lebanese University.

Politically, he has worked as General Administrator for Research and Studies for the Lebanese Parliament between 2005 and 2006.

Previously, he worked as a professor at the Lebanese University, in the Faculty of Information, becoming its head between 1999 and 2005. He also worked as an editor for Annahar.

He is “independent,” but holds close ties to Berri.

Out of respect for the victims and martyrs upon his appointment, Kallas asked the Lebanese to “replace congratulations with thoughts and prayers for Lebanon.”

Administrative Development Minister Najla Riachi Assaker

Assaker is the only woman to take part in Mikati’s 24-member cabinet. She was born in Khenchara in 1961, and holds a diploma in Political Science and Administration and one in History and Geography from USJ.

Politically, she has worked as a diplomat and served in several capacities at the Foreign Ministry. She has occupied multiple posts in Geneva, the Vatican, and Turkey.

Most notably, she was the Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva between 2007 and 2017. 

She is married to ambassador Boutros Assaker.

She is “independent,” but holds close ties to Mikati.

Environment Minister Nasser Yassin

Yassin is a professor of Policy and Planning who has worked at the American University of Beirut since 2008. He was also the Interim Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at AUB.

He also leads the Crisis Observatory at AUB, a research initiative studying the repercussions of Lebanon’s various crises and solutions to them. The professor is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Environmental Security, and worked in Outcome and Programme Evaluation with the UNDP between 2008 and 2012.

He holds a PhD in Development Planning from University College London (UCL), a Master of Science in the same subject from the London School of Economics, and another Master of Science in Population Studies from AUB.

He is largely hailed as “an independent political member” of Mikati’s government, calling on the need to dismantle the political system prior to his appointment as minister.

Following his appointment, he highlighted the need to work on bringing back the hope to Lebanese citizens and working as one team for the sake of the country.

He was named by Mikati.

Tourism Minister Walid Nassar

Nassar was born in Jbeil in 1968, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from USJ, and a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering from ESTP University, Paris.

Since 1991, he has been a member of the Engineer’s Syndicate and holds degrees in planning, programming, geography and quality control.

He has founded and acted as director for multiple engineering, project management and contracting companies in both Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Nassar has worked in consultancy and in designing Lebanon’s participation at the upcoming Dubai 2020 Expo. 

He was also president of the Lebanese Basketball Federation from 2013 to 2016.

He is “independent,” and selected by Aoun to partake in the upcoming government.

“We as ministers are employed by citizens, and not the other way around,” he said upon officially assuming his duties. “We will work to keep the ministry doors open to citizens.”

He highlighted the need for solid policies to revive the sector, which faces significant challenges in light of COVID-19, the Beirut blast, the economic crisis, and the 0.06 percent given to the Tourism Ministry from the public budget.

“We hope that citizens will give us the opportunity to plan and implement to restore the confidence of foreign countries and the Arab World in specific, because having good relations and improving the touristic exchange process are very important for this sector, and positively affect various sectors,” he added.

Minister of the Displaced Issam Charafeddine Chehayeb

Chehayeb was born in Aley in 1954, and is one of two Druze ministers in this cabinet.

He originally studied pharmacy and graduated from AUB in 1976, working in the field before switching careers in the early 1990s.

He is most famous for co-founding a soap and cosmetics company named Charafeddine Industrial Laboratories. The company is classified as first-class in the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

Currently, he is Vice President of the Syndicate of Chemical Industries and also founding former president of the Aley Industrialists Association. In 2019, he founded the “Aley Club for Cycling.”

Chehayeb is known to be a staunch environmentalist who contributed to the establishment of the Shwayya Cedar Forest Reserve. Currently, he is reportedly working on afforestation campaigns in Aley and the neighborhood.

He is an advisor to politician Talal Arslan, an “opponent” of Jumblatt.

Telecoms Minister Johnny Korm

Born in 1966, Korm has been the CEO of General Paint Company for the past 20 years. He is a partner in its various sister companies, both local and international.

Korm received a Master of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering from the University of West Virginia in Morgantown.

He is part of the Marada movement.

“I’m looking at it like I was drafted into the ministry for 10 months and will put my energy and productivity into it,” said the businessman in an interview with MTV Lebanon.

“My promise to the Lebanese is that I will take on my duties in the public sector in the same way I took on my duties in the private sector. And that I will try, as much as possible, to stay away from politics. It’s true that I was named by Sheikh Farid El Khazen and I am grateful and thankful to him for his trust in me. My goal is to stay as far away as possible and not let politics intervene in industry affairs.”

Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada

Born in 1972, Mortada has been a judge since 1996. He is currently the president of the Chamber of First Instance in Mount Lebanon (Baabda), the president of the Criminal Court of Mount Lebanon, an investigating judge of the Judicial Council, and a member of the Law Development and Good Application Committee.

The judge was also a professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration at al-Hikmah University in Beirut between 2008 and 2019. He was also a lecturer in law at the Beirut Arab University.

He holds a degree in Law from the Lebanese University, a diploma from the Institute of Judicial Studies at the Ministry of Justice, and a Master’s in private law at LU.

He is married to Maya Zahi Kanaan, a judge and AUB instructor.

Mortada was selected by the Amal Movement as Culture Minister.

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*This article has been edited to include a paragraph on sexual harassment allegations against Energy Minister Walid Fayad.