Lebanon’s Prime Minister-Designate May Be Doomed to Fail
Experts say Hassan Diab will be unable to satisfy demonstrators, party blocs
Former Education Minister Hassan Diab, tasked on December 19 to form Lebanon’s next government, faces a tough task, opposed both by the demonstrators who are demanding a sea change in the political system and by those who oppose the Sunni politician’s close ties to the Iran-backed Shi’ite Hizbullah movement.
Mass demonstrations in Lebanon began on October 17 to protest government corruption, mismanagement, sectarianism and foreign (i.e., Iranian) influence, and in response to a proposed tax on use of the WhatsApp messaging platform. The protesters vowed not to leave the streets until a government composed of technocrats, rather than politicians representing the country’s many ethnic and religious groups, was formed.
The government of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, facing massive criticism, resigned on October 29, and President Michel Aoun eventually designated Diab to form a new government.
The prime minister-designate won the support of the Amal and Hizbullah (Shi’ite) parties and of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (a Christian party), and promised to form an independent government of professionals and specialists within six weeks.
Diab called on all Lebanese to help in saving the nation from the economic and political crisis.
Meanwhile, Hariri announced that his predominantly Sunni Future Movement would not join the new government.
Ali Amin, a Lebanese analyst and journalist who writes for the London-based, pan-Arab Al-Arab newspaper, told The Media Line that many Lebanese believe that Diab’s appointment failed to meet the demand of the protesters because he was chosen by the Lebanese powers that be, “in other words by the establishment’s team of Hizbullah, Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement.”
Amin also pointed to others who opposed Diab because he didn’t have the support of his own Sunni community.
The journalist added, however, that since Aoun chose the former electrical engineering professor to be the next prime minister, the protests had declined in size.
“The discussion over the candidates weakened the uprising, as the Lebanese establishment enticed the protesters to a certain extent to discuss who should be chosen,” Amin said.
This was “especially effective given that the [uprising] movement didn’t have a clear program or plan on how to move to the next phase in face of the establishment’s approach,” he continued.
The Lebanese were waiting to see how the protesters would react once a new government was formed, and for financial and economic developments, Amin said. “There is a possibility that protests may return in strength.”
Imad al-Hout, a former lawmaker and the head of the political bureau of the Islamic Group, a Sunni Islamist political party, told The Media Line that because of the huge contradictions between the positions of the establishment parties, Diab would most likely fail to form a government.
“We are talking about the same contradictions that caused the uprising and the resignation of the government, [ethnic] quotas [for political posts] and disputes between political power holders, while the country’s problem are real and unlikely to stand delay,” Hout said.
He stressed that with the establishment parties resisting the changes demanded by the people, “we can expect negative developments, not positive ones: more protests and financial crises, including a major crisis in the standard of living during the first half of the coming year, at the very least.”
Aboud Jomaa, a participant in the demonstrations, explained to The Media Line that protesters were divided over the prime minister-designate. One group opposed in principle the appointment of Diab by the establishment but was still willing to move forward toward the next phase. “But they will increase their protests and pressure, to ensure their demands are met and to accelerate the formation of a new government,” he said.
Jomaa added that another group sought the withdrawal of all Sunni support from Diab.
He added that protests had subsided recently, but not due to Diab’s appointment, but rather to the holiday period and the difficult weather.
Nada Nassife, a political activist who participated in the demonstrations, told The Media Line that Diab didn’t meet the standards set by the protesters regarding the next government. “Our criteria are loud and clear; we want a person with a clean record, one who hasn’t held a ministerial position before, and this doesn’t apply to Diab.”
Nassife further explained that the protesters saw Diab’s designation as a political game by Hariri and [Speaker of Parliament and Amal Movement head Nabih] Berri, to put forth a candidate and then vote against him, “which means procrastination by the government, with no solution to the crisis.”
She said the protesters believed Diab was incapable of forming a technocratic government of independent experts.
Rabee Damaj, a Lebanese freelance journalist based in Beirut, told The Media Line that the Lebanese rejected Diab because he was the choice of the Shi’ite duo, Hizbullah and Amal, under the umbrella of President Aoun, “while in reality Gebran Bassil − Aoun’s son-in-law [and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement] – will be the one behind the new government, which means nothing will have changed.”
Damaj stressed that seven people had been killed during the demonstrations, which went on for almost 70 days aiming for real change in Lebanon, “not for what’s happening now, bringing the same people back to power. We removed Hariri to achieve change, but I believe he is better than Diab, as at least he [Hariri] is well connected internationally; that could benefit the government.
“Not to mention that other countries see Diab as Iran’s man, so they won’t support Lebanon [if he is prime minister],” Damaj said.