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AFP
January 23, 2020

Lebanon PM says new cabinet faces ‘catastrophe’

World

AFP
January 23, 2020

BEIRUT: Lebanon faces a ‘catastrophe’, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Wednesday after his newly unveiled cabinet held its first meeting to tackle the twin challenges of a tenacious protest movement and a nosediving economy.

Hassan Diab, who replaced Saad Hariri as prime minister, vowed to meet the demands from the street but demonstrators were unconvinced and scuffled with police overnight. The 61-year-old academic, was thrown in at the deep end for his first experience on the political big stage and admitted that the situation he inherited was desperate.

“Today we are in a financial, economic and social dead end,” he said in remarks read by a government official after the new cabinet’s inaugural meeting in Beirut. “We are facing a catastrophe,” he said.

“Government of last resort,” was the headline on the front page of Al-Akhbar, a daily newspaper close to the powerful Hizbullah movement that gave its blessing to Diab’s designation last month.

Western sanctions on the Iranian-backed organisation are stacking up and economists have argued the new government might struggle to secure the aid it so badly needs. But French President Emmanuel Macron, one of the first leaders to react to the formation of the new government, said he would “do everything, during this deep crisis that they are going through, to help.”

Hizbullah and its allies dominated the talks that produced the new line-up, from which outgoing premier Saad Hariri and some of his allies were absent. The millionaire was one of the symbols of the kind of hereditary and sectarian-driven politics that protesters who have been in the streets since mid-October want to end.

He and his government resigned less than two weeks into the non-sectarian protests demanding the complete overhaul of the political system and celebrating the emergence of a new national civic identity.

Protesters from across Lebanon’s geographical and confessional divides had demanded a cabinet of independent technocrats as a first step to root out endemic government corruption and incompetence.

Diab is a career academic from the prestigious American University of Beirut and he insisted on Tuesday in his first comments that the government just unveiled was a technocratic one. “This is a government that represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilised nationwide for more than three months,” he said.

Yet the horsetrading between traditional political factions during lengthy government formation talks was all too familiar to many Lebanese who met the breakthrough with distrust at best.

“Instead of the corrupt politicians, we got the corrupt politicians’ friends,” said Ahmad Zaid, a 21-year-old student who joined a few hundred protesters in central Beirut after the announcement.