Hassan Diab’s cabinet is unable to meet protesters’ demands or confront Hezbollah

Diab might get the vote of confidence from the 69 MPs who designated him but he has lost the support of millions of his own people.
Sunday 26/01/2020
Anti-government protesters clash with riot police during a demonstration against the new government near the parliament building in Beirut, January 22. (DPA)
Defiant. Anti-government protesters clash with riot police during a demonstration against the new government near the parliament building in Beirut, January 22. (DPA)

Almost a month after he was designated Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab announced the formation of his cabinet, which many Lebanese hoped would save the country from its political and economic meltdown.

For more than 100 days, millions of Lebanese have taken to the streets to demand an end to the archaic and corrupt system of governance and advocate for a cabinet of independent technocrats that would lead the country’s transition. Diab’s cabinet, unfortunately, does not fully respond to citizens’ demands.

While the group does include 20 ostensible technocrats, who are proven and capable in their respective fields, none are truly independent or capable of initiating real reforms.

Diab’s attempt to project an image of impartiality did not go over well with the public. Hundreds of people quickly took to the streets to express disapproval. The sentiment was shared by the international media, with many saying Diab’s so-called cabinet of experts was a “Hezbollah-backed government.”

While Diab claimed his cabinet was a product of the revolution, the riots and destruction caused by rebels in downtown Beirut and their clashes with Lebanese security forces showed that Diab and his government are perceived no differently from the rest of Lebanon’s political elite.

Even most pro-revolution Lebanese who do not engage in or support violence are hesitant to wager on Diab’s success. Few trust his cabinet’s ability and commitment to confront the ruling elite or Hezbollah’s hegemony over the state.

Diab’s mission is to meet the calls of the Lebanese revolution, which include serious structural reforms that allow the country’s faltering economy to rebound and for Lebanese to gain access to the savings that the banks have held hostage.

However rudimentary as these reforms might seem, they will legally end the political and economic monopoly of the ruling elite. Since Diab owes his newly acquired fame to this same junta, there is no indication he can take on the role of reformer.

Diab’s real enemy is time, a luxury neither he nor the Lebanese people have. The Lebanese economy has entered a very dangerous phase in which banks are no longer giving the public access to their accounts and have enforced unofficial capital control, limiting people to a few hundred dollars a week.

Aggravating the situation is the fact that major firms and businesses are either scaling down operations or shutting down, unleashing an unemployment crisis that Lebanon is ill-equipped to deal with.

Shortages of gasoline, medicine, medical supplies, wheat and other essential goods are looming because Lebanon relies almost exclusively on imports, which are paid for in dollars that are only found on the black market and from money exchangers, who also cater to Syria’s heavy demand on hard currency.

The Lebanese ruling establishment and its newly appointed government might assume they can ignore the rage in the streets and wrongfully dismiss protesters as being bent on vandalism and destruction but adding more cement walls and barricades to the parliament building and buying more creative and brutal anti-riot weapons will not make the revolution go away.

To exit Lebanon’s economic and political inferno, the Diab cabinet must heed the demands of its own people, demands that have been reiterated by the international community.

Adhering to diplomatic norms, the United States, France and Britain welcomed the formation of the Diab government and declared their intentions to help Lebanon, as they have over the years. Still, they were quick to remind the ruling elite that no grants or loans would come their way without proper reform and, more important, before Hezbollah and its regional excursions are curbed.

Constitutionally, Diab and his band of technocrats have 30 days before they must appear before the Lebanese parliament with a plan of action and face a vote of confidence that would permit them to properly carry out their duties.

It has been 100 days since the Lebanese people first rose up and voiced rejection of the country’s corrupt leadership. They will not be fooled into supporting the same people who got them where they are now. Diab might get the vote of confidence from the 69 MPs who designated him but he has lost the support of millions of his own people.

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