Lebanon PM says new cabinet faces ‘catastrophe’

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Members of the new Lebanese government pose for a picture at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon Jan. 22, 2020. (Dalati Nohra/Handout via Reuters)
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Updated 23 January 2020

Lebanon PM says new cabinet faces ‘catastrophe’

  • Diab vowed to meet demands from the street but demonstrators were unconvinced
  • He said the government just unveiled was a technocratic one

BEIRUT: Lebanon faces a ‘catastrophe’, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Wednesday after his newly unveiled cabinet held its first meeting to tackle the twin challenges of a tenacious protest movement and a nosediving economy.
Hassan Diab, who replaced Saad Hariri as prime minister, vowed to meet the demands from the street but demonstrators were unconvinced and scuffled with police overnight.
The 61-year-old academic, was thrown in at the deep end for his first experience on the political big stage and admitted that the situation he inherited was desperate.
“Today we are in a financial, economic and social dead end,” he said in remarks read by a government official after the new cabinet’s inaugural meeting in Beirut.
“We are facing a catastrophe,” he said.
“Government of last resort,” was the headline on the front page of Al-Akhbar, a daily newspaper close to the powerful Hezbollah movement that gave its blessing to Diab’s designation last month.




Lebanese President Michel Aoun (R) heads the first meeting of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s (L) newly constituted government at the presidential palace in Baabda east of capital Beirut on Jan. 22, 2020. (AFP)

Western sanctions on the Iranian-backed organization are stacking up and economists have argued the new government might struggle to secure the aid it so badly needs.
But French President Emmanuel Macron, one of the first leaders to react to the formation of the new government, said he would “do everything, during this deep crisis that they are going through, to help.”
Hezbollah and its allies dominated the talks that produced the new line-up, from which outgoing premier Saad Hariri and some of his allies were absent.
The millionaire was one of the symbols of the kind of hereditary and sectarian-driven politics that protesters who have been in the streets since mid-October want to end.
He and his government resigned less than two weeks into the non-sectarian protests demanding the complete overhaul of the political system and celebrating the emergence of a new national civic identity.
Protesters from across Lebanon’s geographical and confessional divides had demanded a cabinet of independent technocrats as a first step to root out endemic government corruption and incompetence.




Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Hassan Diab (L) reviews the honor guard upon his arrival at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, for the inaugural meeting for the newly formed government. (Dalati Nohra/Handout via AFP)

Diab is a career academic from the prestigious American University of Beirut and he insisted Tuesday in his first comments that the government just unveiled was a technocratic one.
“This is a government that represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilized nationwide for more than three months,” he said.
Yet the horsetrading between traditional political factions during lengthy government formation talks was all too familiar to many Lebanese who met the breakthrough with distrust at best.
“Instead of the corrupt politicians, we got the corrupt politicians’ friends,” said Ahmad Zaid, a 21-year-old student who joined a few hundred protesters in central Beirut after the announcement.
Clusters of demonstrators burned tires and briefly blocked roads to express their displeasure at the new line-up but clashes with riot police were on a smaller scale than weekend violence that left dozens wounded.
Similar rallies took place in Tripoli — a hotbed of the protest movement — in Sidon, Byblos and other cities.
The new cabinet is mostly made up of new faces, many of them academics and former ministry advisers.




Lebanon ended a painful wait by unveiling a new cabinet line-up, but the government was promptly scorned by protesters and faces the Herculean task of saving a collapsing economy. (AFP)

It comprises 20 ministers and among its six women is Zeina Akar, Lebanon’s first-ever female defense minister.
To downsize the cabinet, some portfolios were merged, resulting in at times baffling combinations such as a single ministry for culture and agriculture.
Anger at what protesters see as a kleptocratic oligarchy was initially fueled by youth unemployment that stands at more than 30 percent and the abysmal delivery of public services such as water and electricity.
The long-brewing discontent was compounded by fears of a total economic collapse in recent weeks, with a liquidity crunch leading banks to impose crippling capital controls.
Lebanon has one of the world’s highest debt-to-GDP ratios and economists have argued it is hard to see how the near bankrupt country could repay its foreign debt.
“Regarding the economic situation, I repeat that this is one of our priorities,” Diab said Tuesday night.




A new Cabinet was announced in crisis-hit Lebanon late Tuesday, breaking a months-long impasse amid mass protests against the country’s ruling elite and a crippling financial crisis, but demonstrations and violence continued. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Government via AP)

“We need to be given a little time,” he added.
A looming default on Lebanon’s debt, which has been steadily downgraded deeper into junk status by rating agencies, has sent the dollar soaring on the parallel exchange market.
In a country where many transactions are carried out in dollars and most goods are imported, consumers and businesses alike have been hit hard by the national currency’s free fall.
Every morning, queues of people hoping to withdraw their weekly cap of 100 or 200 dollars form outside banks.


Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

Fadi Hidmi. (Supplied)
Updated 04 April 2020

Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

  • East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic

AMMAN: Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Fadi Hidmi was released by Israeli police on Friday afternoon after being arrested for the fourth time without charge.

Ministry spokesman Awad Awad told Arab News that Hidmi had been “warned” not to “move around” or “do any work in” Jerusalem in accordance with measures being taken to minimize the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Awad also claimed that Hidmi had been physically abused by the police, saying that the minister was “punched in the face and forced to wear a mask with blood on it.”

CCTV at Hidmi’s Mount of Olives house show that he was manhandled by Israeli police during his arrest in the early hours of Friday.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed the arrest.

Rosenfeld told the Israeli press that Hidmi was arrested “on suspicion of Palestinian activities in Jerusalem.”

He said police searched Hidmi’s home and confiscated documents as well as “large sums of money. Israeli media said that the police had confiscated NIS10,000 ($2,750) found in the house.

Hidmi, a Jerusalem resident, was the director of the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Industry before accepting his current job in the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government.

Before Hidmi’s release on Friday, Shtayyeh wrote on social media: “Israel targets who work for #Jerusalem, even at such critical moments as we work to save our people's lives from #COVID19.”

East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Jamil Kousa, director of the St. Joseph hospital, told Palestine TV that he was only informed on March 25 that his hospital should be prepared to accept patients with COVID-19.

Ahmad Buderi, the coordinator of the Jerusalem Alliance — an organization launched to help combat COVID-19 — has said that people in the city are depending almost solely on local initiatives to deal with the pandemic.

Before his arrest, Hidmi launched the website madad.ps to coordinate the distribution of urgenly needed food and medical supplies to the city’s residents.

Walid Nammour, secretary-general of the Jerusalem Hospital Network, estimates that the city’s six hospitals need $7 million to to deal with the potential spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem.

Nammour told Arab News that 300-400 ventilators are needed and that only 26 are available at present.