Damascus: After weeks of a political tug-of-war, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab finally announced his 20-man cabinet late night on Tuesday.
For the first time since the Taif Accords that ended the country’s civil war, major blocs within parliament were completely absent from the government, including the Sunni bloc headed by ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri and previously, by his father, the late Rafik Al Hariri.
Other absentees were the Druze bloc of Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Forces of Samir Geagea, and the Lebanese Phalange of ex-President Amin Gemayel.
The cabinet of newcomers is being hailed by its architects as a technocrat government, where ministers were chosen for their professional merit, rather than their political affiliation.
Most of them are academics and one common trait is that they never held government office before, with the exception of the new Foreign Minister Nassib Hitti, who was Lebanon’s ambassador to the Arab League.
But regardless of how they are being marketed, each member of the cabinet was either named by one of the main parties in the pro-Syrian March 8 Coalition.
Prime on the list of kingmakers was ex-Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement.
In the former cabinet of Saad Hariri, the Free Patriotic Movement had 8 out of 30 seats, including heavyweight posts like the ministries of defense, justice, and foreign affairs.
They now have 6 out of 20, maintaining all their main portfolios, although Bassil, responsible for much of the anger on the streets of Beirut since mid-October 2019, is now officially out of government.
The following are some of the key ministers:
Nassif Hitti (Minister of Foreign Affairs): A Maronite named by the Free Patriotic Movement, he is a graduate of the American University of Beirut and the University of Southern California. Hitti served as Lebanon’s ambassador to the Arab League and then as the League’s ambassador to France, Italy, and the Vatican. In 2016-2019 he was dean of the higher institute of political science at Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon.
Zena Akar (Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister): Being billed as the first woman defense minister in the Arab World, Zena Akar was nominated for the job by Gibran Basil, with the endorsement of President Michel Aoun. Hailing from a prominent Orthodox family she is married to Lebanese businessman Jawad Adra, and has worked with him, in addition to her role as founder of an NGO working on social and cultural development. She studied at the Lebanese American University (LAU).
Raoul Nehme (Minister of Economy): A banker by profession, the 64-year old minister was nominated by the Free Patriotic Movement. A graduate of Ecole Polytechnique de Paris, he worked in several banks in Lebanon, Cyprus, and Turkey, rising to become general manager of BLC Bank in Lebanon, and since June 2018, as executive director of BankMed. He was also CEO of Turkland Bank in Turkey and a member of the board at BankMed Swisse in Geneva. He is also the founder of an environmental sustainability NGO called Juzoor Lubnan.
Raymond Ghajar (Minister of Energy): Named by the Free Patriotic Movement, Ghajar is an academic who had previously served as dean of the faculty of engineering at the Lebanese American University (LAU). A graduate from the University of Ottawa, he was also vice-president for human resources at LAU and former adviser to the Ministry of Energy, when held by the Free Patriotic Movement.
Mohammad Fahmi (Minister of Interior): A former army general, Fahmi is a Muslim Sunni chosen for the job by Prime Minister Diab. He is replacing Raya Al Hassan, a protégé of Saad Al Hariri, who has recently aroused much anger for the way in which security forces treated the demonstrators, reportedly at her command. Fahmi studied at James Madison University in the US and enlisted in the Lebanese Army in 1978. He rose the military ladder, becoming director of military intelligence from 1997-2006. In 2016, he was named commander of forces in Mount Lebanon but resigned that year to join BLOM Bank as an adviser on security affairs.
Talal Hawwat (Minister of Telecommunications): Named by the Prime Minister himself, Hawwat is a Sunni Muslim from Tripoli who is an electric engineer by both education and training. After studying at San Jose University in California, he began a long career with CISCO, an American multinational technology conglomerate based in Silicon Valley.
Ghazi Wazni (Minister of Finance): Named by the Amal Movement, Wazni is an economic adviser to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and a former adviser to the Lebanese Government’s Budget Committee in 2009-2011. A graduate of Dauphine University in Paris, he worked as an economics professor in Congo during Lebanon’s Civil War, then moved to France in 1985, where he also billed as a consultant until returning to Lebanon in 2001.
Hamad Hasan (Minister of Health): Named by Hezbollah as one of its two ministers Hamad Hasan is the former head of municipality in Baalbak (2013-2016), a Hezbollah stronghold. He studied pharmaceuticals and specialized in medical labs in Moscow, returning to head the laboratories of Al Mais Hospital in Chtaura on the Damascus-Beirut Highway. He is also a long-time professor of health studies at Lebanese University in Beirut.
Imad Hoballah (Minister of Industry): Named by Hezbollah although not a Hezbollah member, Hoballah is a professor at AUB and at the American University of Dubai (AUD). He is also CEO of ICTTT Consulting, working in IT, and a regional consultant on IT solutions in the Middle East, Arab Gulf, and North Africa.
Ramzi Mashrafieh (Minister of Tourism and Social Affairs): A prominent medical doctor, he was nominated for the job by Emir Talal Arslan, a prominent Druze leader who contends with Walid Jumblatt for leadership of the Druze community. Mashrafieh is a graduate of the American University of Beirut Medical School who started his career as an orthopedic at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopedic Hospital in the UK. He then returned to Lebanon as a professor at AUB, joining the Clemenceau Hospital, affiliated with John Hopkins University in Lebanon. Between 1992-2000, he was head of the orthopedic department at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC).
Manal Abdul Samad (Minister of Information): Named by Emir Talal Arslan as well, she is heading a portfolio that Hariri had promised to abolish, writing it off as too costly and unneeded. Abdul Samad hails from the Chouf district in Mount Lebanon and studied at the Sorbonne University in Paris, where she obtained a PhD in International Law. She currently teaches at AUB and until recently was head of the department of auditing and tax policy at the Ministry of Finance.
Michel Najjar (Minister of Public Works): Named by the Marada Movement that is headed by Zghorta leader Suleiman Frangieh, a strong ally of Damascus and Hezbollah, Najjar is the current dean of the faculty of engineering at Balamand University, affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Church. He studied first at AUB and then at the University of Oklahoma, obtaining a PhD in Structural Engineering. He then joined Balamand University as a member of faculty, rising to become vice-president for administrative affairs.