Three months after mass protests against corruption and nepotism toppled the government in Lebanon and rattled its already shaky economy, the country has a new cabinet. The 20-member team was unveiled on Tuesday and, to put it mildly, has its task cut out for it.
Former education minister Hassan Diab, who is the new prime minister, minced no words when talking about the single most important issue facing Lebanon: the collapsing economy. He said that his debt-ridden country’s economy was facing a “catastrophe”, and a financial, economic and social “dead-end”.
From the get-go, the 61-year-old technocrat faces one handicap: While his appointment on December 19 was backed by the pro-Iran militant group Hezbollah, which wields wholly disproportionate influence on the Lebanese political dispensation, Diab did not win the backing of parties from his own Sunni community, notably the Future Bloc of ex-premier Saad Hariri.
One thing Diab has going for him, though, is his cabinet. Most of the members are highly educated technocrats like Diab himself. It remains to be seen if they are able to succeed where so many of their predecessors have failed. But given the complex, multifaceted nature of the challenge, it is a hard ask
Continuation of the system
Even more crucially, the protesters who have taken Lebanon by storm for the past three months have rejected him completely, seeing his selection as a continuation of the corrupt system of power distribution that has blighted their country for decades. Such is their opposition to Diab that even before his swearing-in, huge crowds gathered outside his residence to demand that he step down.
The fact that Diab is backed by Hezbollah, while at the same time not enjoying the support of key political blocs such as the one led by Hariri, could be a major problem for the new prime minister. The militant group’s stranglehold over Lebanese politics, and its adherence to directives from its backers in Iran, has made Lebanon hostage to regional power dynamics, and torpedoed moves towards progress.
True to form, Lebanon’s cabinet came about after a lot of sect-based horse-trading and political wrangling. This is precisely the type of system that the protesters have expressed opposition to.
And despite the fact that the Cabinet is much smaller than is the norm in Lebanon — 20 instead of 30 members — there is little doubt that behind most of the MPs, there is the direct or indirect backing of established political groups.
The one thing Diab has going for him, though, is his cabinet. Most of the members are highly educated technocrats like Diab himself. It remains to be seen if they are able to succeed where so many of their predecessors have failed. But given the complex, multifaceted nature of the challenge, it is a hard ask.