Beirut: Lebanon’s major political parties agreed to name businessman and ex-finance minister Mohammad Safadi as the country’s new premier, local media reported, a choice that was immediately rejected by anti-government demonstrators pressing for deeper change.
The new cabinet would be comprised of a mix of experts, as demanded by protesters, as well as representatives of the main political parties, LBCI television and other media outlets said.
They did not identify their sources.
In 2008, he became minister of economy and trade in the government of Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. He held that post again in a Hariri-led Cabinet formed in 2009.
Safadi was part of the Hariri-led "March 14" alliance that emerged after the 2005 assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, Saad's father. March 14 mobilised against the presence of Syrian forces that withdrew from Lebanon in 2005 and was then locked in years of political conflict with Hezbollah over its weapons.
A 2009 U.S. Embassy cable published by WikiLeaks described Safadi as having made his fortune in Saudi Arabia and being close to the Saudi royal family.
He was first elected as an MP in Tripoli in 2000 but did not stand in the last election.
His wife, Violette Safadi, is minister of state for economic empowerment of women and youth in the Hariri Cabinet.
Safadi could not immediately be reached for confirmation but news of his possible appointment was met with disbelief after four weeks of nationwide protests demanding the removal of a ruling elite accused of plundering state coffers to the verge of bankruptcy.
On Twitter, commentators denounced him as part of the political class protesters want to push out.
One of the world’s most indebted nations, Lebanon has been without a government since Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned late last month in the face of mass demonstrations that have paralyzed the country and forced banks and schools to close.
Four weeks in, the uprising has grown into one of the most serious challenges yet to the sectarian power-sharing system that emerged from the ashes of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
The apparent inability of senior officials to respond to popular demands has shaken confidence in the economy and seen the currency tumble on the black market.
The government’s Eurobonds are the worst performers in emerging markets this quarter. Its five-year credit-default swaps, a measure of the cost of insuring sovereign debt against default, are hovering near a record high.
Demonstrations appeared to lose some of their momentum after Hariri’s resignation. They’ve resumed with a vengeance since President Michel Aoun said in a television interview this week that protesters should leave the country if they couldn’t deal with its political realities.
The Lebanese army has deployed heavily across Lebanon since his comments, seeking to prevent demonstrators from blocking roads to press their demands.