Protesters condemn Hassan Diab’s new government in Lebanon

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Lebanese protesters denounced the country’s new government and vowed to continue demonstrations on Wednesday.

“This is an anti-people government, it is a sectarian government which is not representative of the social and demographic terrain of the Lebanese population”, said 62-year-old engineer Abdullah Hassan.

Hassan had gathered alongside other protesters on Tuesday night in reaction to the announcement of a new government under Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

While protesters have demanded a government of technocrats and new elections, the new cabinet is backed by many of the establishment parties which protesters have denounced, including Iranian-backed Hezbollah and President Michel Aoun’s allied Free Patriotic Movement.

“It feels like day one in terms of the things we asked for, instead they got new images of old members, they are exactly the same as before, just with different masks,” said school teacher Farah.

The heavily indebted country has been without effective government since Saad Hariri resigned as premier in October, prompted by protests against a political elite seen as having caused the crisis through state corruption.

Hariri and his Future Movement have stayed out of the government, along with the staunchly anti-Hezbollah Christian Lebanese Forces party and the Progressive Socialist Party of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

Weeks of wrangling over portfolios among Hezbollah’s allies held up an agreement until Tuesday, when the heavily armed group delivered an ultimatum to its allies to make a deal or suffer the consequences, sources familiar with the talks said.

The cabinet is made up of 20 specialist ministers backed by parties. Economist Ghazi Wazni was nominated finance minister with the backing of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Nassif Hitti, a former ambassador to the Arab League, was named foreign minister with the backing of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.

While Eddy Nader, a 31-year-old digital marketing manager, said that not all the new ministers are corrupt, he added that “they aren’t able to do anything.”

“The establishment is too strong, they have a strong position against the people”, he added.

American University of Beirut student, Nathalie Bissat, 25, said the government formation is “useless as long as the system which we’re trying to demolish is still in place, no matter what they form right now, it’s just stalling.”

Online, analysts and activists also voiced their concern.

Lebanese activist Sara Assaf tweeted saying “For nearly 100 days, we asked for a technocrat independent Govt, aiming to fight corruption and restore national & international trust. We got the exact opposite, a govt fully controlled by Nasrallah & Bassil! Expect more protests, road blocks and violence!”

Other analysts said that Hezbollah’s role in the government’s formation meant it might have difficulty convincing other states to provide urgently needed financial support.

“It will certainly not be easy for a government of this type to convince the outside world to help Lebanon.” Nabil Boumonsef, deputy editor-in-chief of the An-Nahar newspaper, said in comments on the new government.

Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said the new government of “one colour” could further polarise Lebanese politics. Hariri’s absence meant that old Sunni-Shiite tensions might be reactivated, said Ali.

On Twitter, Lebanese celebrities also criticized the new government. Lebanese singer Elissa summarized the mood in a one-word tweet, describing the new government as a “joke.”

But back on the streets, some took heart that the new government's unpopularity would ensure the protest movement continued.

“I’m not worried about the revolution dying anymore,” said Bissat.

(With Reuters)

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