UN chief welcomes formation of new government in Lebanon

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has welcomed the formation of a new government in Lebanon, stressing the international body’s commitment to supporting Beirut.

“The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement of the formation of a new Government of Lebanon today. He looks forward to working with Prime Minister Hassan Diab and the incoming Council of Ministers, including in support of Lebanon’s reform agenda and to address the pressing needs of its people,” the UN chief’s spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, said in a statement.

Guterres affirmed “the United Nations commitment to support Lebanon’s strengthening of its sovereignty, stability and political independence in accordance with the Taif Accord and Baabda declaration, and its effective implementation of Security Council resolutions 1701 (2006), 1559 (2004) and other relevant resolutions which remain essential to the stability of Lebanon and the region.”

On Tuesday evening, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the formation of his government following a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east Beirut.

Diab’s government succeeds the caretaker government of outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri which had resigned on 29 October last year following weeks of popular protests demanding political and economic reforms.

Lebanon’s new cabinet members, including the Arab world’s first-ever female defense chief

Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Tuesday appointed his purportedly “technocratic” cabinet of 20 ministers.

Although at first glance the selection comprises of many previously unknown figures – the majority PhD holders and other specialists – several of the new appointees have ties to the “old guard”, according to the New Arab.

This has watered down hopes for an entirely fresh-faced team to lead the country out of economic crisis and political stagnation.

Some appointees have been hailed by the protesters, including the introduction of six women, such as Zeina Akar, the first female defense minister of an Arab country.

Other candidate picked have been slammed for their close ties to corrupt elements of the previous administration and its economic policies which brought Lebanon to its knees.

Prime Minister: Hassan Diab

An academic and former education minister, Diab was little-known in Lebanon until he was designated last month with the backing of the powerful Shia movements Hezbollah and Amal, we well as the right-wing Christian ruling party, the Free Patriotic Movement. Although a Sunni, as the role of prime minister is designated to be, Diab lacks support from Lebanon’s Sunni population. Following his appointment, the 60-year-old was duly mocked by protesters for his 136-page CV available online, and the 1,315-page book he wrote on his achievements while education minister, between 2011 to 2014. An engineering professor, when not in the political sphere Diab has held positions within the American University of Beirut (AUB). In his first comments as premier, Diab insisted that his cabinet was a technocratic one that would strive to meet protesters’ demands. “This is a government that represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilized nationwide for more than three months,” he said. He said his government “will strive to meet their demands for an independent judiciary, for the recovery of embezzled funds, for the fight against illegal gains”.

Deputy PM and Defense: Zeina Akar

Akar is 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. According to Information International’s website, Akar leads the company’s survey research, database collection and project analysis for the Arab world and the Near East in the areas of health, education, agriculture, and infrastructure facilities. The businesswoman, who holds a degree in social sciences from the Lebanese American University, was initially criticized by some for not having any specialist experience in defense or the military. However, this was soon called out as sexist as many male defence and other ministers are far from experts in their ministerial portfolios.

Foreign Affairs: Nassif Hitti

Replacing the reviled Gebran Bassil, Hitti is an academic specialized in International Relations, having obtained a doctorate in the subject from the University of South Carolina. He currently directs the political institute within the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, north of Beirut.

A seasoned diplomat, Hitti formerly served as the Lebanese ambassador the Arab League. Meanwhile, he writes regularly for Lebanese

Interior: Mohamed Fahmi

The appointment of former army general Fahmi has been met with ire by protesters, chiefly over his praise for the security forces’ violent crackdown on protesters, on top of his tenure as Lebanon’s director of military intelligence from 1997 and 2006. In other words, he is very experienced in repression tactics, which is especially controversial given the past weeks’ anger against the violent suppression of peaceful anti-government demonstrations, which has also included the forced disappearances and allegations of torture. Fahmi studied management at James Madison University in Virginia, US before enlisting in the Lebanese Army in 1978, three years after the civil war began. More recently, he worked at an adviser on security affairs at Blom Bank since 2016.

Finance: Ghazi Wazni

A former economic advisor to Lebanon’s Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, as well as an adviser to the parliamentary finance and budget committee, the appointment of Wazni has been wildly unpopular. Protesters do not trust someone with such close links to the establishment – deemed as corrupt – to take on the monumental task of lifting Lebanon out of its acute financial crisis. Wazni is a former economics professor and consultant who runs his own research firm.

Justice: Marie-Claude Najm

One of the six women in the cabinet, Najm serves 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. She is the niece of former culture minister Naji Boustani, who served in the shortlived Omar Karami government from 2004 to 2005.

Environment and Administrative Development: Damianos Kattar

An economist, Kattar previously served as finance minister and is an economist. He was briefly Lebanon’s finance minister in Najib Mikati’s very shortlived three-month long government in 2005.

Telecommunications: Talal Hawat

Hawat worked for 19 years for American technology company Cisco in the US and Lebanon. More recently, in 2018, he was appointed regional vice president for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey with Canadian company Sandvine, a networking equipment company where he previously worked as sales director.

Energy Minister: Raymond Ghajar

Ghajar has equally been reviled by protesters for being issue of the previous establishment. Serving as an advisor to Gebran Bassil, Ghajar has worked in the ministry since 1995. As part of his role as senior energy policy adviser, he contributed to a electricity policy paper in 2010 that failed to deliver round-the-clock power to the country.

Ghajar holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada and has been a professor of electrical engineering at the Lebanese American University since 1995.

Information Minister: Manal Abdel Samad

Samad holds a doctorate in law from the esteemed Sorbonne University in Paris.

Although 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.

Economy Minister: Raoul Nehme

Nehme’s appointment has been met with disappointment from protesters, over his close ties to many of Lebanon’s banks which are blamed for mismanaging the country’s money, including serving as Chairman at ASTROBank and Executive General Manager at BankMed, Nehme previously managed BLC Bank.

Nehme originally studied engineering at France’s Ecole Polytechnique.

Public Works: Michel Najjar

Having obtained a PhD in civil engineering in the US, Najjar later returned to Lebanon to work at Balamand University as a lecturer. He now serves as vice president for academic and administrative affairs at the American University of Technology in Lebanon.

Health Minister: Hamad Hassan

The former mayor of Baalbek and president of Baalbek Municipalities Federation, Hassan is widely distrusted due to his ties to Hezbollah. Hassan has a PhD in Molecular Biological Sciences from Moscow’s Institute of Biological and Environmental Research in Moscow. He serves as a professor at the College of Public Health at the Lebanese University, directing the department of laboratory sciences.

Labour Minister: Lamia Yammine

At 45, Yammime 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, she is a board member of a wood design company in Lebanon.

Social Affairs and Tourism Minister: Ramzi Mousharrafiyeh

A less straightforward appointee, Mousharrafiyeh is a professor of orthopaedic surgery.

Youth and Sports Minister: Varti Ohanian

A social worker, Ohanian directs a Beirut-based education centre for children with special needs.

Education Minister: Tarek Majzoub

A judge at State Shura Council, Majzoub teaches law at Lebanon’s Sagesse University.

Agriculture and Culture Minister: Abbas Mortada

A seemingly mismatched dual portfolio, Mortada managed a real estate company as well as a hotel until 2019. He holds a master’s degree in history from the Lebanese University of Beirut and is currently studying for a PhD.

Minister for the Displaced: Ghada Shreim

Shreim, the sixth and final female minister, is a professor at the Lebanese University, according to Lebanese media.

Industry Minister: Imad Hoballah

Hoballah, who holds a doctorate in electrical engineering, has been the provost of the American University of Dubai since 2017, teaching across the US and Lebanon.