Who’s who in Lebanon’s new government

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Lebanon’s new government was formed after a month delay on Wednesday under new Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who set to work forming a cabinet that will appease protesters who have been calling for a technocratic government since October.

Many Lebanese supporting the revolution were hoping the new government would be comprised of experts with no political ties. However, the 20-member cabinet, which includes six women, is chock-full of fresh faces with familiar political ties, albeit most with technical expertise.

“The most controversial aspect of these ministers is while they’re not official party members, they’re all affiliated to political parties, have served as advisers, or have business ties with them,” said Nadim El Kak, a researcher at the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. “At least a handful of them – while they have competent backgrounds – the portfolios they were handed are not in line with their expertise.”

Alhough the cabinet is smaller than the previous 30-member cabinet, with 20 members it is still larger than the 18 Diab had originally called for.

Some have said the government is of “one color,” referring to the fact that it is made up of those loyal to the March 8 Alliance, which includes Iran-backed Hezbollah. The party, which lost one seat, will now hold two seats, but six pro-Hezbollah Sunni Muslim members will also sit in cabinet.

Noticeably absent from the cabinet is anyone from former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s Future Movement, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).

President Michel Aoun, Bassil’s father-in-law previously said Bassil must hold a seat in the new government.

Whether this government, with Diab at the helm, can save a rapidly crashing economy is yet to be seen. Some in Lebanon want to give the new government a chance. Others, still demanding a government rid of old political ties, took to the Beirut streets outside the Parliament building immediately following the announcement.

Here is a look at the new cabinet:

Prime minister: Hassan Diab
Diab is a 60-year-old engineering professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB). He is backed by Hezbollah and allies, but not by his Sunni colleagues. He has written several books on reform but has little political experience; he served as education minister from 2011 to 2014 as part of Hariri’s government, which was taken down by Hezbollah. Diab has voiced his support for the protests, but has been criticized by protesters for taking part in the new government.

Deputy prime minister and defense: Zeina Akar Adra
Nominated by: FPM

Adra is the first female deputy prime minister and defense minister. She is a partner and director of Information International, a Beirut-based research firm that was founded by her husband Jawad Adra. Her husband has allegedly stolen and dealt historical artifacts from all over the region. Adra holds a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from the Lebanese American University.

Interior minister: Mohamed Fahmi
Nominated by: Diab

Fahmi is a retired Major General in the Lebanese Armed Forces under from President Émile Lahoud who will replace the fairly popular Raya El Hassan. El Kak told Al Arabiya English that there are claims that Syrian regime head Bashar al Assad’s security adviser pushed for Fahmi to be put in this position, but he was officially nominated by Diab to appeal more to the West.

“There are rumors circulating that the security adviser of Bashar al Assad asked Hezbollah to push for his name as interior minister,” El Kak said. He has also been criticized for his role in Blom Bank as a security and safety adviser to the board of directors.

Finance minister: Ghazi Wazni
Nominated by: Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri

An economist, Wazni has previously served as a financial adviser to parliament’s finance and budget committee. He has also served as adviser to Berri and former finance minister Ali Hasan Khalil. According to El Kak, this is a signal that his policies will largely be in line with his predecessor.

Wazni holds a PhD in economics from the University of Paris 9 Dauphine and was a financial adviser in Paris until 2001. He has also founded a number of banks in Africa and was an associate professor and lecturer at the Faculty of Economics and Business from 1987 to 1998 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Foreign affairs minister: Nassif Hitti
Nominated by: FPM

Hitti is a former ambassador to the Arab League and a former representative to UNESCO. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California (1980) and prior to that he obtained a bachelor's in political science and a master's in polit from the American University of Beirut.

Economy minister: Raoul Nehme
Nominated by: FPM

Nehme is one of the more controversial picks as he has visible connections to the banking sector and is a shareholder of the Cypriot AstroBank, along with other prominent Lebanese business magnates.

He was appointed Executive General Manager at Lebanon’s Bankmed in June 2018. He was also the general manager of BLC Bank in Lebanon, chairman of Turkland Bank in Turkey and a board member of Bankmed Swisse in Geneva.

Justice minister: Marie-Claude Najm
Nominated by: FPM

Najm appears to be connected to the old ruling class as she is the niece of Naji Boustani. Professionally, she has worked as a lawyer and professor at St. Joseph University in Beirut.

Najm has previously advocated for independence of the judiciary, which some are saying is a good sign for potential reform. She has been vocal in civil society and was a founding member of the 2007 “Khalas!” campaign that sought a peaceful solution to the sectarian conflict going on at the time.

Education minister: Tarek Majzoub
Nominated by: Diab

Majzoub is a judge at State Shura Council and a professor of law at Sagesse University in Beirut. He is reportedly close to the pro-Syrian Sunni members of parliament, according to a tweet by El Kak.

Health minister: Hamad Hassan
Nominated by: Hezbollah

Hassan is a professor at Lebanese University in public health. He served as mayor of Baalbek from 2013 to 2016. In 2019 he was appointed president of Baalbek Municipalities Federation in 2019.

Agriculture and culture minister: Abbas Mortada
Nominated by: Amal

Mortada was the general manager of a Lebanese hotel from 2015 to 2019 and was a general manager of a real estate company. The Ministry of Agriculture and Culture is newly consolidated from two ministries.

Displaced minister: Ghada Shreim
Nominated by: FPM

Shreim was nominated by the FPM. She teaches French Literature at the Lebanese University.

Information minister: Manal Abdel Samad
Nominated by: Marada

Samad began work at the Ministry of Finance in 1997 where she headed the Tax and Auditing Authority. She was part of the group to implement VAT in Lebanon. Increasing VAT is debated in Lebanon as a means of alleviating current economic strain.

Environment and administrative development: Damianos Kattar
Nominated by: Diab

Kattar is a businessman and served as Minister of Finance for three months (April-July 2005) under Najib Mikati. After studying management and strategy, he became a strategic consultant to many financial institutions in the Gulf countries and a university professor at St. Joseph's University and the University of Wisdom in Beirut.

Telecommunications minister: Talal Hawat
Nominated by: “Consultative Grouping”

Hawat, an engineer, has worked in telecommunications in the US. He studied electrical engineering and electronics at the University of San Jose, California. He worked for Cisco, an American multinational technology company for 19 years, including eight years in America and 11 years in Lebanon. He recently held the position of Regional Vice President for the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey at the Canadian Sandvine company he has worked with since 2018.

Industry minister: Imad Hoballah
Nominated by: Hezbollah

Since 2017, Hoballah has served as provost of the American University of Dubai. He has also taught at Syracuse University, Tulsa University, and the American University of Beirut. He was also the chairman and CEO of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority in Lebanon for five years, as well as a representative of the International Telecommunication Union in Lebanon from 2012 to 2014.

Public works minister: Michel Najjar
Nominated by: Marada

Michel Najjar was reportedly banned from University of Balamand for looting funds, according to El Hak. Najjar had been the vice chairman of the university. The president’s office at the university has denied the claim, saying only that Najjar resigned and that he was a “good person.” He then served as the vice president for academic affairs at the American University of Technology in Beirut.

Labor minister: Lamia Yammine Douaihy
Nominated by: Marada

Douaihy is an architect and university professor at the Lebanese University in Tripoli, where she previously studied architectural engineering. She is a member of the board of directors of Douaihy pour le bois, a wood design company.

Energy and water minister: Raymond Ghajar
Nominated by: FPM

Ghajar has been a senior energy policy adviser at the Ministry of Energy and Water since 2007, including under the tenure of former FPM energy minister Nada Boustani. He has over 30 years of professional and academic experience. He played an essential role in preparing the electricity sector policy paper in 2010 and updating this paper in 2019, and supervised the implementation of the projects included in the electricity plan - which has been heavily criticized by experts and its projects subject to lengthy delays.

Jessica Obeid, a Lebanese energy expert, endorsed Ghajar on Twitter saying she’s been proud to be on panels with him.

Social affairs and tourism minister: Ramzi Mousharrafiyeh
Nominated by: Marada Movement

Mousharrafiyeh is orthopedic and joint surgeon who graduated from the American University of Beirut (AUB) and worked in the UK before joining the Department of Surgery at AUB. He is the President of the Lebanese Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery and President of the Lebanese Society of Orthopedics and Joints. He has published multiple research papers at the Lebanese American University.

Education minister: Tarek Majzoub
Nominated by: Diab

Majzoub is a judge at State Shura Council. He also is a professor of law at Sagesse University in Beirut.

Youth and sports minister: Varte Ohanian
Nominated by: Tashnag

Ohanian served as the director of an education center in Beirut for children with special needs from 2017 to 2019. She has also worked as a social worker.

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