Major Challenges and Spiraling Protests Face New Lebanese Cabinet

After weeks of difficult consultations and deliberations among main political power breakers in Lebanon, a new government of technocrats and specialists was born this week. The new Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, a university professor and former education minister, included six female ministers in his cabinet for the first time in the country’s history. Difficult and sometimes frustrating consultations made by Prime Minister-elect, Hassan Diab, over the 33 odd days before the birth of Lebanon’s new cabinet were just the beginning of a massive task fraught with daunting economic, social and political challenges facing the new prime minister and his team. Already many Lebanese and foreign observers have claimed that Diab’s cabinet was orchestrated by Hezbollah, despite the high-profile presence of a six-woman strong component of ministers holding some key posts.

Multiple Women key posts in Lebanon’s new cabinet

Zena Akar became Tuesday the first woman in an Arab country to hold the post of Defence Minister, along with the post of Deputy Prime Minister. Akar was the executive director of Beirut-based research and consultancy firm Information International, founded by her husband Jawad Adra, who is one of the country’s most prominent businessmen. Other portfolios given to female ministers included: Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm who served as a professor of law at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, where she directs the Centre for Legal Studies and Research for the Arab World. Najm is the niece of former culture minister Naji Boustani, who served in the short-lived Omar Karami government from 2004 to 2005.

The new Information Minister, Manal Abdel Samad, holds a doctorate in law from the esteemed Sorbonne University in Paris. A relatively unknown name, Samad worked in the Finance Ministry since 1997, leading the Tax and Auditing Authority, eventually working in the government group that first created and implemented VAT in Lebanon. She later became a lecturer at AUB and Saint Joseph University, teaching administrative leadership, public finances and fiscal studies. She is currently also affiliated with the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy. Labour Minister Lamia Yammine, 45, is among the younger of the cabinet appointees, as well as being a relative outsider. An architect and professor at the Lebanese University in Tripoli and a board member of a wood design company in Lebanon. Ghada Shreim who was appointed as Minister for the Displaced, is a professor at the Lebanese University. Prime Minister Hassan Diab appointed Armenian Vartine Ohanian as youth and sports minister. Ohanian become the first female Armenian to hold a cabinet position in Lebanon’s history. A social worker by profession, Ohanian is the director of Zvartnots Educational Center. Her candidacy was proposed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

Multiple challenges and mounting unrest face Diab’s team

As Diab’s newly formed cabinet got down to business Wednesday, a day after it was formed, protests continued to rage through the capital Beirut and other Lebanese cities, mainly by ousted Prime Minister Saad al Hariri supporters who have rejected the nomination of Hassan Diab for the job from day one. Many have questioned the ability of the new cabinet’s ability to tackle Lebanon’s daunting economic collapse symptoms, stifling debts problem or put an end to the spiralling wave of unrest which have ravaged the country and crippled much of its near- dying economy.

Thousands of mainly pro-Hariri young protesters rampaged through the streets of Beirut, near the Parliament and other city-centre venues, smashing windows of shops, banks and restaurants. Clashes with riot police followed as protesters closed major roads around the capital and refused to leave the streets. They accuse the newly formed government of being no more than a rubber stamp for the same political parties they have been protesting against, and accusing them of unprecedented high-level political and economic corruption. Diab’s sympathetic statements with protesters and open-arm overtures towards them, have done virtually nothing to dampen their mounting anger and intensifying protests.

Whether Diab’s cabinet will manage to get the crucial financial and economic aid from rich Arab states as well as that of some EU nations, badly needed to get Lebanon form the bottleneck of away from the brink of total bankruptcy and inevitable economic collapse, remains an answered question. Moreover, it is unclear how the new Lebanese government is going to properly function unless security and order are completely restored. Diab’s mission could by far become the most difficult in the country’s post-civil war era; should the university professor succeed in pulling a miraculous formula that takes Lebanon to a safe bank, given the merciless river of protests and raging unrest, the man’s name will, deservedly, go down in history books as one of the great saviours of Lebanon from total collapse.