Jan 22, 2020

Lebanon forms new government amid economic crisis and protests

Lebanon's newly formed Cabinet. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

After months of protests and unrest, a Hezbollah-backed prime minister and Cabinet are assuming leadership in Lebanon as they meet for the first time on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

The big picture: Prime Minister Hassan Diab is inheriting a plethora of problems he must address quickly if he hopes to financially stabilize Lebanon and win the trust of protesters. He must also quell the nerves of the Arab Gulf states — who are concerned about Hezbollah's growing influence in Beirut and hesitant to extend financial support as a result, per Reuters.

The state of play: Lebanon has essentially been without any leadership or structured government since former Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in October 2019.

  • Lebanon is in a state of economic crisis and is currently struggling with a public debt equal to 150% of its GDP, per Reuters.
  • Protesters have been in the streets rallying against political corruption and calling for sweeping reform since October.
  • Diab said his first trip as prime minister will be to other Arab countries, specifically the Gulf states.
  • The mostly peaceful protests became violent this past weekend for the first time, leaving 540 protesters and police wounded, per Al Jazeera.

What they're saying: "This [is a] government that does not aspire to cronyism and favors," Diab said, according to Al Jazeera. "None of the members of the government will be standing for the next elections. This government is made up of non-partisan people who are not affected by political wrangling."

The Cabinet: Diab is a 60-year-old former professor at the American University of Beirut, Al Jazeera notes.

  • Many of Diab's Cabinet members have limited or no experience relating to the new ministries they lead, per the New York Times.
  • Worth noting: Six of the new ministers are women, including those for defense, justice and labor — making Lebanon a "rarity" in the Middle East, the Times notes.

The bottom line: In order for Lebanon to financially stabilize, Diab will have to make tough decisions such as imposing capital control and cutting down civil services, which could further alienate him with protesters, per the Times.

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