Lebanon Names New Cabinet Amid Political and Economic Crisis
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon announced the formation of a new cabinet on Tuesday, breaking a monthslong deadlock with the nomination of 20 new government ministers who will have to address a perplexing mix of political and economic crises.
The government is deep in debt, the currency has lost much of its value on the black market and protesters have taken to the streets for more than three months to condemn the country’s political class for years of corruption and mismanagement.
It remained unclear whether the new cabinet, which still must be confirmed by the Parliament, could take swift action to prevent an economic collapse or to appease the protesters. In addition, the new government’s support from Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militant movement that the United States considers a terrorist organization, could dissuade Western and Persian Gulf nations from coming to Lebanon’s aid.
Hassan Diab, an engineering professor and former education minister who was designated prime minister last month, told reporters Tuesday that his new cabinet met the needs of the country’s “exceptional situation” and that it would seek to recover stolen funds and fight unemployment.
“Every minister in this government is a technocrat minister,” he said, referring to the protesters’ demand for a government of experts, not politicians.
But many of the new ministers have clear connections to established parties, and to the very politicians the protesters have been rallying against since mid-October.
Late Tuesday, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in the capital, Beirut, and elsewhere to burn tires and garbage and block roads in rejection of the new cabinet.
Lebanon is governed according to a complex power-sharing system among the country’s 18 recognized sects. Many of the country’s top politicians have roots as warlords in the country’s hugely destructive 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990. Since then, they have become the heads of political parties that largely represent individual sects and provide their constituents with perks, such as access to government jobs.
But as Lebanon’s finances have constricted, that system has broken down, leading protesters to call for the ouster of the traditional political leadership and the sectarian system itself.
Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said that to effectively face Lebanon’s current problems, a new cabinet would have to be able to take on the established politicians while providing wins to protesters — a tall order.
“For me at least, it is not a government that will be able to do stand up to the warlords,” she said. “And at the same time, it is not a government that will inspire confidence with the protesters.”
If it fails on those two counts, Ms. Slim said, “then I don’t know what this government will deliver except for more stalemate.”
Analysts say that to prevent a wider collapse, the government must take decisive measures that could prove painful to the population, such as imposing capital controls on dollars, cutting the government budget and slimming down the civil service.
Such onerous reforms would be even more difficult without buy-in from the population, analysts say.
The new cabinet most likely does not have that, because the agreement that brought on Mr. Diab as prime minister relied on Hezbollah and its allies while excluding other key politicians, such as Saad Hariri, the former prime minister, who is often seen as the top representative of the country’s Sunni Muslims. Mr. Hariri resigned on Oct. 29.
While the new premier is also a Sunni, he lacks broad support among his sect, and that may take away from his cabinet’s legitimacy.
Many of the new ministers were little known beforehand or had backgrounds that did not clearly relate to the ministries they are supposed to lead. The new defense minister, for example, has no military experience.
But making Lebanon a rarity in the Arab world, six of the ministers are women, including those for defense, justice and labor.
Members of the cabinet were expected to meet on Wednesday to draft a political program to present to Parliament in hopes of getting the vote of confidence required to take office. It was not immediately clear when the vote would take place.
In comments to the news media on Wednesday, some of the new ministers asked the country to give them time to work and appealed for unity.
“I am not going to deal with politics,” Ghazi Wazni, the new finance minister, told a local television station. “My role is to restore confidence. We have big challenges. We need everybody’s support, and outside support.”
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