A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For January 23/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 98th Day

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A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For January 22-23/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 98th Day
Compiled By: Elias Bejjani
January 23/2020

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on January 22-23/2020
A New Hezbollah Government Per Excellence In Occupied Lebanon/Elias Bejjani/January 23/2020
Lebanon forms government with backing of Hezbollah and allies
Netanyahu Discusses Hizbullah ‘Precision Missiles’ with Macron
Macron Says Paris to Do ‘Everything’ to Help Resolve Lebanon Crisis
Fresh Clashes Erupt in Central Beirut after New Govt. Formed
Aoun Urges Govt. to Regain Int’l Confidence, Reassure Lebanese
Panel Drafting Govt. Policy Statement to Meet Friday
Diab Says New Cabinet Faces ‘Catastrophe’
New Govt. Holds First Meeting as Protests Persist
Lebanon’s New Govt. Faces Multiple Challenges, Growing Unrest
Skepticism over Lebanon’s ‘Technocratic’ Cabinet
Banks Association Says Ready to Help Get Lebanon Out of Crisis
Berri: Govt. Has Capability to Overcome Current Crisis
Wazni: Impossible to Restore Previous Exchange Rate
Lebanon’s new Cabinet already on borrowed time/Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/January 22/2020
Nasrallah as Khamenei’s secret troubleshooter in Iraq/DEBKAfile/January 22/2020
US Seeks to Corner Hezbollah in Latin America
UN chief says will work with new Lebanese govt on reforms
Lebanon faces economic ‘catastrophe’ says new PM Diab
France will do ‘everything’ to help resolve Lebanon crisis: Macron
Impossible for Lebanese exchange rate to return to what it was: Finance minister
Lebanon needs foreign support, decision on Eurobond: New finance minister
Lebanese protesters block roads in Beirut after new government announced
New Quds Force deputy is Iran’s missile man in Lebanon/Jerusalem Post/January 22/2020
Technocrats or autocrats? Lebanon’s new cabinet meet as protesters slam ‘government of failure’
Lebanon’s divisive new cabinet faces a near impossible task amid heightened protests and increasing repression/Rami G. Khouri/The New Arab/January 22/2020
Lebanon gets a new Hezbollah-backed government amid mounting unrest/Liz Sly and Suzan Haidamous/The Washington Post/January 22/2020
Profile: Lebanon’s new cabinet members, including the Arab world’s first-ever female defence chief/The New Arab/January 22/2020

Details Of The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorial publishedon January 22-23/2020
A New Hezbollah Government Per Excellence In Occupied Lebanon
Elias Bejjani/January 22/2020
http://eliasbejjaninews.com/archives/82508/elias-bejjani-a-new-hezbollah-government-per-excellence-in-occupied-lebanon-%d8%ad%d9%83%d9%88%d9%85%d8%a9-%d9%84%d8%a8%d9%86%d8%a7%d9%86%d9%8a%d8%a9-%d8%ac%d8%af%d9%8a%d8%af%d8%a9-%d9%85%d9%86/
In reality and actuality it is worth mentioning that all The governments in Lebanon since 2005, and all those that took place during the entire savage-Stalinist Syrian occupation era were mere puppets, clowns, and masks no more no less.
Sadly the new so called falsely Lebanese government that was imposed by force today by the occupier Hezbollah has nothing that is Lebanese and practically it is not going to be different by any means.
It remains that Lebanon’s main problem and devastating cancer is the Hezbollah-Iranian occupation, and accordingly no solutions are possible in any field or sector as long as this occupier remains in control and have the upper hand in all domains and all levels.
In conclusion Lebanon is an Iranian occupied country, while all its officials and politicians from top to bottom are castrated in all domains of sovereignty, independence, decision making process, dignity, self respect, faith, and freedom.
All these clowns have no say in any matter and did actually sell themselves and the country with much less than thirty coins.
They are officials and politicians who shamelessly obey Hezbollah’s Faramens (orders and decrees) and happily serve its Iranian schemes of occupation, oppression, iranization and expansionism
Meanwhile the Hariri last government was a Hezbollah facade too and Hariri himself was a number one advocate for the Hezbollah occupation regionally and globally.
It remains that this third government during Michael Aoun’s presidency is a Hezbollah one per excellence while Aoun himself as a president was made by Hezbollah.
Unfortunately, Aoun and since year 2006 has been openly and boldly serving Hezbollah’s Iranian hegemony and Occupation on the account of every thing that is Lebanon and Lebanese.

Lebanon forms government with backing of Hezbollah and allies
Reuters/January 22/2020
But analysts said Hezbollah’s role in the government’s formation meant it might have difficulty convincing other states to provide urgently needed financial support.
Lebanon formed a new government on Tuesday under Prime Minister Hassan Diab after the Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its allies agreed on a cabinet that must urgently address the economic crisis and ensuing protests that toppled its predecessor.
The heavily indebted country has been without effective government since Saad al-Hariri resigned as premier in October, prompted by protests against a political elite seen as having caused the crisis through state corruption.
The Iranian-backed Hezbollah and allies including President Michel Aoun nominated Diab as premier last month after efforts failed to strike a deal with Hariri, Lebanon’s main Sunni leader and an ally of the West and Gulf Arab states.
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. Diab described his government as a technocratic “rescue team” that would work to achieve the goals of protesters who first took to the streets on Oct. 17. His first trip abroad would be to the Arab region, particularly the Gulf.
But analysts said Hezbollah’s role in the government’s formation meant it might have difficulty convincing other states to provide urgently needed financial support.
Hezbollah is designated a terrorist group by the United States, and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states that have provided Lebanon with financial aid in the past have for years been deeply concerned by its rising influence in Beirut.
‘NOT EASY FOR THIS GOVERNMENT’
“It will certainly not be easy for a government of this type to convince the outside world to help Lebanon,” said Nabil Boumonsef, deputy editor-in-chief of the An-Nahar newspaper. The absence of a government had left Lebanon rudderless as ordinary people suffered in the crisis.
A liquidity crunch has led banks to restrict access to cash and the Lebanese pound to slump. Job have been lost and inflation has soared. Over the last week, hundreds have been injured in clashes between he security forces and demonstrators. 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. Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said the new government of “one color” could further polarize Lebanese politics. Hariri’s absence meant that old Sunni-Shi’ite tensions might be reactivated. In some parts of Beirut, protesters greeted the new government by burning tires. One of the government’s first tasks will be to decide its approach to looming sovereign bond repayments, including a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March.
Lebanon’s union of exchange dealers said on Tuesday it had decided to set the exchange rate at a maximum of 2,000 pounds to the U.S. dollar in agreement with the central bank governor. The pound has been officially pegged at 1,507.50 to the dollar for more than two decades. Diab expressed hope that the currency would strengthen.

Netanyahu Discusses Hizbullah ‘Precision Missiles’ with Macron
Naharnet/January 22/2020
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to curb Iranian influence in Syria and French President Emmanuel Macron to push back against Iran in Lebanon at this week’s 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, experts said. Pro-Iranian militia in Syria have stepped up their efforts to launch attacks against Israel, which has responded with air strikes — including on Damascus. Iran also has considerable sway in Israel’s northern neighbor Lebanon through its backing of the powerful Hizbullah. Last year, the Israeli army accused Hizbullah of building — with Iranian support — a facility where rockets could be converted into precision guided missiles. The Israeli army has warned that, once operational, such missiles would be more difficult to repel than standard rockets and could inflict substantial damage on Israel’s soil. France, which as a colonial power held a mandate in Lebanon, still has influence in Beirut. Netanyahu raised “Hizbullah’s project to manufacture precision missiles” during his closed door meeting with Macron on Wednesday, a statement from the prime minister’s office said. Speaking alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin later on, Macron pledged “vigilance” against “any form of terrorist activity that could be carried out from Lebanon that would threaten Israel’s security,” without giving details. An Israeli security source who requested anonymity suggested to AFP that if Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah was persuaded that the guided missile project was “too risky… he will stop it.”

Macron Says Paris to Do ‘Everything’ to Help Resolve Lebanon Crisis
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 22/2020
France will do “everything” to help resolve Lebanon’s “deep crisis,” President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday, as a new government in Beirut faces a tenacious protest movement and a nosediving economy. “We will do everything, during this deep crisis that they are going through, to help … our Lebanese friends,” Macron said, speaking alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during a visit to Jerusalem. The comments came as new Prime Minister Hassan Diab convened his first cabinet, which donors hope can spearhead reforms, unlock foreign aid and help stabilize a plummeting currency.
While pledging support to France’s “Lebanese friends,” Macron also stressed that he would remain “vigilant” regarding any “terrorist activity” from Lebanon that could threaten either the Lebanese people or its southern neighbor Israel. Lebanon is technically still at war with Israel.

Fresh Clashes Erupt in Central Beirut after New Govt. Formed
Naharnet/January 22/2020
Security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at anti-government protesters in central Beirut on Wednesday afternoon, after some of them hurled stones firecrackers and uprooted trees and began dismantling a huge security barrier outside Nejmeh Square. The area had witnessed overnight clashes during a demo rejecting the country’s new government. As soon as protesters arrived at the site on Wednesday, some of them mounted the metallic wall and barricades outside Nejmeh Square as other started dismantling the security barrier. Protesters later torched a tent belonging to security forces on the edge of Nejmeh Square and smashed the facade of one of the shops. The clashes were still raging after around four hours from the eruption of the confrontation although riot police, assisted by commando forces from the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Branch, managed to clear protesters from the area around parliament and from the premises of the luxury Beirut Souks shopping complex. The protesters have since retreated to the area near Kataeb Party’s headquarters in Saifi. And as security forces fired tear gas heavily, protesters responded by hurling Molotov cocktails, firecrackers and stones.
More than ten people were injured in the fierce clashes. LBCI TV had earlier reported that security forces in Dahr al-Baydar stopped dozens of buses coming from the Bekaa and prevented them from heading to Beirut. Several arrests were also made.Internal Security Forces commandos also set up a checkpoint on the highway near the Casino du Liban where they searched buses and vans carrying protesters to central Beirut.
A new Cabinet was announced in crisis-hit Lebanon late Tuesday, breaking a months-long impasse. The new government, which comes three months after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, was rejected by protesters who have been calling for sweeping reforms and a government made up of independent technocrats that can deal with the country’s economic and financial crisis, the worst since the 1975-90 civil war. Even before the Cabinet was announced, thousands of people poured into the streets, closing major roads in the capital of Beirut and other parts of the country in protest. The protesters complained that political groups still were involved in the naming of the new ministers, even if they are specialists and academics. “We want a government of experts … who are they kidding?” said one protester, Fadi Zakour. “We have been protesting for 90 days and we are not happy to close roads,” he added.
Diab saluted the protesters in the street and vowed to “work to fulfill your demands.” In a speech addressing the country following the government announcement. Although the government announced Tuesday is technically made up of specialists, the ministers were named by political parties in a process involving horse trading and bickering with little regard for the demands of protesters for a transparent process and independent candidates. Panic and anger have gripped the public as the Lebanese pound, pegged to the dollar for more than two decades, plummeted in value. It fell more than 60% in recent weeks on the black market. The economy has seen no growth and flows of foreign currency dried up in the already heavily indebted country that relies on imports for most basic goods.

Aoun Urges Govt. to Regain Int’l Confidence, Reassure Lebanese
Naharnet/January 22/2020
President Michel Aoun on Wednesday said the new government must seek to regain international confidence in Lebanon and reassure the anxious citizens. “The critical period requires doubling the efforts and work, especially that the government was formed amid very difficult economic, financial and social situations,” Aoun told ministers during the first session of Hassan Diab’s government which was formed overnight. “It is necessary to work on addressing the economic situations, regaining the confidence of the international community in Lebanese institutions and reassuring the Lebanese about their future,” the president added. Noting that the government will hold successive sessions, Aoun said the previous government had prepared an economic plan and financial reforms which should be “implemented, or amended if necessary,” by the new government.

Panel Drafting Govt. Policy Statement to Meet Friday
Naharnet/January 22/2020
The new government on Wednesday formed a ministerial panel tasked with drafting the Cabinet’s Policy Statement. The committee is headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab and comprise the deputy PM and the ministers of finance, foreign affairs, justice, economy and trade, environment and administrative development, information, youth and sport, telecom, industry, and social affairs. It will hold its first meeting Friday at 11:00 am at the Grand Serail.

Diab Says New Cabinet Faces ‘Catastrophe’
Naharnet/January 22/2020
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 the cabinet’s secretary-general after the new cabinet’s inaugural meeting in Beirut. “We are facing a catastrophe,” he said. Diab also said that sacking the central bank governor was not on the table, adding that the new government will have a different financial and economic program. Diab did not elaborate about the program but some economists have called on Lebanon to work on improving production in the country that imports almost everything. Economists have also called for reducing interest rates so that people invest their money in businesses rather than keep it in bank accounts that offer high returns. “Government of last resort,” was the headline on the front page of Al-Akhbar, a daily newspaper close to Hizbullah which gave its blessing to Diab’s designation last month. 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.”Hizbullah 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. Hariri 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. 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.
– Technocratic? –
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, Jbeil and other cities. The new cabinet is mostly made up of new faces, many of them academics and former ministry advisers.
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.
– ‘A little time’ –
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.”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.

New Govt. Holds First Meeting as Protests Persist
Naharnet/January 22/2020
The newly formed government in crisis-hit Lebanon held its first meeting on Wednesday at Baabda Palace and was chaired by President Michel Aoun.
The government meeting was held directly after having the official commemorative photo taken. A meeting between Aoun, new Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Speaker Nabih Berri was held before the government convened. When asked about his opinion of the new government, smiling Berri who seldom makes comments to reporters, said: “The media are pessimistic, but we are optimistic.” The cabinet was formed 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 overnight and early today. Diab, a 60-year-old former professor at the American University of Beirut, announced a Cabinet of 20 members — mostly specialists supported by Hizbullah and allied political parties. The new government, which comes three months after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, was rejected by protesters who have been calling for sweeping reforms and a government made up of independent technocrats that can deal with the country’s economic and financial crisis, the worst since the 1975-90 civil war.

Lebanon’s New Govt. Faces Multiple Challenges, Growing Unrest
Associated Press/Naharnet/January 22/2020
Lebanon’s new government, made up of members nominated by Hizbullah and its allies, got down to business Wednesday, a day after it was formed. Questions arose immediately about its ability to halt a spiral of economic and political collapse.
As the government headed by Hassan Diab held its first meeting, protesters briefly closed off major roads in and around the capital Beirut, denouncing it as a rubber stamp for the same political parties they blame for widespread corruption. Later on Wednesday, a few hundred protesters from northern and eastern Lebanon engaged in violent confrontations with security forces in downtown Beirut.
Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the young men, who ripped tiles off of buildings in downtown, breaking them up to use as stones to throw at police. Thick grey smoke hung over the city center as police fired volley after volley of gas canisters that left protesters wretching and gasping for breath. Diab vowed to tackle the country’s crippling crisis — the worst since the 1975-90 civil war — saying his Cabinet will adopt financial and economic methods different than those of previous governments. But analysts said it was highly unlikely a government backed by Hizbullah and its allies would be able to drum up the international and regional support needed to avoid economic collapse.
Hizbullah is considered a “terrorist” organization by the U.S. and oil-rich Gulf countries whose support is badly needed for debt-ridden Lebanon. The European Union considers the military wing of Hizbullah a terrorist organization. “These ministers and this government will not be able to make independent decisions related to the economy or the political situation, so long as their decisions are up to the parties that formed this government, first and foremost Hizbullah,” said political analyst Youssef Diab.
Protesters first took to the streets in mid-October in a mass uprising against the country’s ruling elite, which they blame for decades of corruption and mismanagement that have brought Lebanon to the brink of economic collapse. Since then, the country has sunk deeper into a political crisis. The Lebanese pound, long pegged to the dollar, has lost up to 60% of its value against the dollar and banks have imposed unprecedented capital controls to preserve liquidity. Although the government announced Tuesday is technically made up of specialists, the ministers were named by political parties in a process involving horse trading and bickering with little regard for the demands of protesters for a transparent process and independent candidates. There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials to the government formation.

Skepticism over Lebanon’s ‘Technocratic’ Cabinet

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 22/2020
Lebanon’s new prime minister claims to lead a government of technocrats but critics argue the line-up is window dressing for a set of ministers who are neither experts nor independent. Hassan Diab insisted the list of 20 ministers unveiled Tuesday night represented the demands of protesters who first took to the streets three months ago to demand change. But protesters reacted angrily to the line-up, arguing it fell short of a clean break from the sectarian-driven way of apportioning government jobs that has characterized Lebanese politics for decades. A self-proclaimed technocrat, the 61-year-old Diab is a university professor but also a former education minister who owes his political appointments to Hizbullah. Before his cabinet was even formed, many protesters rejected him as a pawn of the parties they want removed from the political landscape. The cabinet brought many new faces but the month-long political bargaining that led to Tuesday’s announcement fueled deep-rooted suspicion that behind every technocrat is a party clinging to its share of influence and patronage. A closer look at the line-up confirmed that, with some exceptions, the government is nothing but another product of Lebanon’s age-old political pie-slicing game.
‘Cooking’
“Despite the presence of a few genuinely independent and reformist figures, the cooks who whipped up this government are the usual suspects,” said Karim Bitar, a professor of international relations in Paris and Beirut.
Jebran Bassil, President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law and arguably the politician most reviled by the protest camp, hands over the foreign ministry to Nassif Hitti, a respected career diplomat. Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm and Finance Minister Ghazni Wazni are also both considered to have strong credentials. But many of the new ministers are close to the stalwarts of Lebanon’s hereditary ruling elite and will have little room for maneuver. “It feels as if the Lebanese political class wanted to show something more palatable to the public and international community,” Bitar said.
“But there has been no in-depth change, just a bit of window dressing,” he said. The newly appointed minister of public works, Michel Najjar, made no secret of his political debt. His first words were to thank not the prime minister but his sponsor Suleiman Franjieh for nominating him during government formation talks. The Lebanese press published articles giving a breakdown of each new minister’s friendships and allegiances, painting a picture of a government team that will have its hands tied at a time when drastic economic measures are needed. MP Paula Yacoubian made it clear she felt “Diab did not keep his promise to form a government of independent” experts. The independence of the new government was always in doubt in a country where the ruling elite is desperate to cling to its privileges, but some of the new ministers’ expertise was also coming under scrutiny Wednesday.
– Pipe dream –
When asked about the appointment of Zeina Akar — a social scientist who runs a consultancy firm — as defense minister, Diab fumbled his answer and questioned the need to have specialists for the job. Last-minute horsetrading between Lebanon’s factions combined with a drive to downsize the cabinet also led to unlikely ministerial mergers. Social media was awash with wry comments and jokes on the appointment of Abbas Mortada, who has worked in hotel management and real estate, as the minister in charge of both culture and agriculture. His name was put forward by the AMAL Movement. After a three-month vacuum, a new government was eagerly awaited, at home and by Lebanon’s donors, but fears are already high that it will not be in a position to deliver radical reforms needed to save the near-bankrupt country. Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre, said a fully independent government of the country’s brightest minds was the protest movement’s pipe dream. “Ideally what you would have needed at this point in time, is a consensus by all political parties to allow an independent government to do its work and stabilize the country, prioritizing the economy over the politics,” she said. “That didn’t happen,” she said.

Banks Association Says Ready to Help Get Lebanon Out of Crisis

Associated Press/Naharnet/January 22/2020
The Association of Banks in Lebanon said Wednesday that it expects from the new government a “clear financial and economic program that takes into consideration the big challenges that Lebanon is facing.”
It added that the banking sector is ready to help in getting Lebanon out of its crisis. Also on Wednesday, the U.S. dollar was being bought at exchange shops around the country for 2,000 Lebanese pounds after hitting a record of 2,500 pounds to the dollar last week.The official rate remained at 1,507 pounds to the dollar. Panic and anger have gripped the public as the pound, pegged to the dollar for more than two decades, plummeted in value. It fell more than 60% in recent weeks on the black market.

Berri: Govt. Has Capability to Overcome Current Crisis
Naharnet/January 22/2020
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced Wednesday that the new government which was formed overnight Tuesday has the capability to pull the country out of its multi-faceted crisis. “With its competent and specialist ministers, the government has the ability to come up with visions and programs that can be a cornerstone for overcoming the current crisis on the condition that there will no time waste,” Berri said during his weekly Ain el-Tineh meeting with lawmakers. He also stressed that the new government “must prove that it is the government of all Lebanese.”

Wazni: Impossible to Restore Previous Exchange Rate
Naharnet/January 22/2020
Lebanon’s new finance minister Ghazi Wazni on Wednesday said that it will be “difficult, if not impossible,” to return the dollar exchange rate to its previous state on the parallel market. “The dollar exchange rate dropped to LBP 2,000 because a new government represents a confidence factor, but it will be difficult, if not impossible, to return to the official exchange rate” set by the central bank, Wazni, who is a well-known financial expert, said in remarks to al-Jadeed TV. He however noted that the central bank can “alleviate the impact of the discrepancy in the exchange rate” should the government “offer a salvation Policy Statement that would be convincing inside and outside the country, which would allow it to draw foreign support.”“Controlling the parallel market in the coming period is linked to the government’s work,” Wazni said in remarks to LBCI TV. “The situation is very difficult but halting the collapse we are going through is possible. The issue requires support from inside and outside the country and this is everyone’s responsibility,” the new minister added.

Lebanon’s new Cabinet already on borrowed time
Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/January 22/2020
A genuine effort could have been made to listen to popular grievances and forge a new, transparent model of governance. Instead, the same corrupt old cliques colluded together and then collectively spat in citizens’ faces. This is a leadership unwilling to countenance change — unwilling to loosen its teeth from Lebanon’s neck as it continues extracting the nation’s lifeblood.
If ministerial appointments were “non-partisan,” “independent” figures, as incoming Prime Minister Hassan Diab claims, what were the weeks of factional haggling, bidding and brinkmanship all about? If you want to appease citizens, instead of further provoking them, stop treating them as ignoramuses, unable to comprehend what is happening before their eyes.
Plucked out at random, today Diab is a useful, but impotent, place-filler — ticking the necessary sectarian boxes yet representing nobody. Tomorrow, when he has fulfilled his purpose, he will be summarily disposed of. The finalized list of appointees was submitted to Diab as a last-minute fait accompli by President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri. I wonder who will pull the strings in this new administration.
This government is calculated to remind citizens — as if they needed reminding — why the corrupt, discredited old sectarian system must be allowed to die. Ministries will continue operating as private cash farms and employment providers for the benefit of key factions. The appointment of figures like Mohammed Fahmi — previously notorious for his extreme proximity to Damascus — tells us all we need to know.
There are fears that, once the ink is dry on the Cabinet agreement, there will be a purge of security personnel sympathetic to the protest movement, allowing for a definitive crackdown. Tehran has been telling Hezbollah that it is time to enforce order on Beirut’s streets — whatever it takes.
However, as Walid Jumblatt and other veterans have urged, this “rescue” government should be given a chance. New Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, an economist, should be given space to perform open heart surgery on the nation’s finances. He should be allowed to introduce radical reforms — including measures that would anger vested interests — to open the door for support from the World Bank and other foreign donors and investors.
After decades of systematic theft from public sector budgets, Lebanon is the world’s third most indebted country, with a 152 percent debt-to-gross domestic product ratio. The ongoing crisis has harmed small businesses and the communities least able to bear the financial pain. Meanwhile, the elites withdraw their wealth unmolested, while profiting from sharp price rises and currency fluctuations.
It is, nevertheless, refreshing to see a Cabinet containing five women, including Zeina Akar, who will perform the not insignificant roles of defense minister and deputy prime minister.
The question is not whether this government will be rejected, it is how the key power brokers will react when a critical mass of Lebanese citizens have voiced their rejection. While it is in everybody’s interests to see new ministers stemming the bleeding from Lebanon’s financial system, citizens are already out on the streets making it crystal clear that this regime is on borrowed time.
The uprising is entering a new phase, requiring a more sophisticated approach. Vague demands for change and the rejection of sectarian factions are no longer sufficient. The lack of leadership within the protest movement initially made it beautifully democratic and inclusive, but also allowed it to be ignored and outmaneuvered by entrenched powers. The movement must now roll up its sleeves and enter the political arena as a post-sectarian, trans-communal force to sweep the old order away.
This government is calculated to remind citizens why the corrupt, discredited old sectarian system must be allowed to die.
Activists and intellectuals must conceptualize what a post-Taif Agreement governing system should look like. How can accountability, transparency and effective governance be enshrined within a new constitution? How can communities and minorities be represented without surrendering power back to white-haired warlords? How can Lebanon’s sovereignty and national identity be protected against hostile foreign interests? A plurality of nations regards Hezbollah as a terrorist movement. Its participation in government (directly or indirectly) is a red line for donors. If Hezbollah wants to avoid being swept away as Lebanon’s sectarian system is dismantled, it must abandon its weapons and dependence on Iran.Lebanon is an inherently diverse nation and no single faction or agenda can be allowed to monopolize its governing system — particularly sectarian parties that threaten its sovereignty, independence and civil peace. Lebanon’s geriatric leaders have proven their unwillingness to change; therefore they must be changed.
*Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Nasrallah as Khamenei’s secret troubleshooter in Iraq
DEBKAfile/January 22/2020
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei secretly asked Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah to act as his emissary for mending Shiite fences in Iraq. The community was stormily divided against Baghdad’s ties with Iran both before and since the US assassination of Qassam Soleimani on Jan. 3.
This step is disclosed exclusively by DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources. Nasrallah promptly assigned a shadowy Hizballah figure to take a hand.
Hussein Kawtharani is the central liaison officer between the Lebanese Shiite chief and Iraq’s pro-Iran Shiite militia leaders. He also controls the Iranian-Hizballah financial fund in Iraq. In the days of Soleimani and Iraq’s PMU (Popular Mobilization Units) chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis – both of whom died in the US strike on Baghdad – it was Kawtharani who, in consultation with them both, doled out funds to the Iraqi militias. Soleimani used the size of their allowances to keep their leaders in line. The exceptional power the Hizballah chief wields as wire-puller in both Baghdad as well as Beirut has never before been revealed. Using him as a troubleshooter in Iraq was Iran’s comeback for the new sanctions the US imposed on Hizballah and Israel’s campaign for the world to designate the entire movement a terrorist organization.
Our sources reveal that Kawlharani set two processions in motion for putting the turbulent Iraqi Shiite house in order:
Finding an Iraqi prime minister acceptable to Tehran and Beirut.
A request to the supreme leader via Nasrallah to tone down the violent threats of revenge coming from Iranian Revolutionary Guards and other officials. He explained that the heated eve of war climate was not conducive to addressing the complicated problems of Iraq’s Shiites.
The outcome of his mission is as follows:
By Wednesday, Jan. 22, Iraq still had no prime minister, because the largest Shiite bloc in the Iraqi parliament headed by the unpredictable cleric Moqtada Sadr refuses to play ball with any of Tehran’s choices. While initially willing to call out an anti-US street demonstration in support of Tehran, the influential cleric has since reverted to his original demand for a nonpartisan government of experts to assume power in Baghdad.

US Seeks to Corner Hezbollah in Latin America
Washington – Muath al-Amri/Asharq Al Awsat/January 22/2020
The United States provided information to Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay and Peru about “support and financing networks” affiliated with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, as part of its efforts to restrict the party’s activity in Latin America and to exert maximum pressure on Iran and its proxies.
Diplomatic sources in Washington told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested a number of persons, who are involved with dealing with Hezbollah or suspected of planning to expand their activities inside the United States.
These moves came in parallel with the holding of the Third Regional Conference Against Terrorism in Bogota, Colombia, during which the US is seeking to unify the stance of 20 Latin American countries against the party. US State Secretary Mike Pompeo, who is attending the conference, called on “all nations” on Saturday to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist group. “We call on all nations to designate Hezbollah as the terrorist organization it is,” Pompeo wrote on his Twitter account.
The diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Honduras and Guatemala have indicated their intention to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization, following a similar move by Argentina and Paraguay. According to the US State Department, Pompeo met in Colombia on Monday with President Ivan Duque, stressing “the importance of uniting efforts in “fighting all forms of terrorism and “targeting the financial activity of Iranian proxy groups.”US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that during the conference, Pompeo talked about the activities of pro-Iranian terrorist organizations in Latin countries, following the campaign of arrests carried out by Paraguay, Brazil and Peru against Hezbollah’s agents over the past few years, on charges of terrorism, money laundering and others. According to Ortagus, countries of Latin America have taken practical steps in combating terrorism and drying up its sources, hailing regulations adopted by Argentina and Paraguay to impose sanctions on Hezbollah and other terrorist groups during the past year.

UN chief says will work with new Lebanese govt on reforms
Reuters, Beirut/Wednesday, 22 January 2020
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the formation of a new Lebanese government on Wednesday and will work with the new premier to support reforms in the heavily indebted country grappling with an urgent economic crisis. A statement issued by Guterres’ spokesperson also said the United Nations was committed to supporting “Lebanon’s strengthening of its sovereignty, stability and political independence”. Lebanon formed a new government under Prime Minister Hassan Diab after the Shia Hezbollah movement and its allies agreed on a cabinet after weeks of wrangling over portfolios.

Lebanon faces economic ‘catastrophe’ says new PM Diab
Reuters/Wednesday, 22 January 2020
Debt-ridden Lebanon faces an economic “catastrophe”, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Wednesday as his newly unveiled cabinet met for the first time. “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. President Michel Aoun told Lebanon’s new government it must tackle the country’s economic woes, win back international confidence and gain the trust of the Lebanese. “Your mission is delicate,” the president’s office cited him as saying at the cabinet’s first meeting. He also said the government would have to work to make up for lost time.

France will do ‘everything’ to help resolve Lebanon crisis: Macron
AFP, Jerusalem/Wednesday, 22 January 2020
France will do “everything” to help resolve Lebanon’s “deep crisis,” President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday, as a new government in Beirut faces a tenacious protest movement and a nosediving economy.
“We will do everything, during this deep crisis that they are going through, to help … our Lebanese friends,” Macron said, speaking alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during a visit to Jerusalem.
The comments came as new Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab convened his first cabinet, which donors hope can spearhead reforms, unlock foreign aid and help stabilize a plummeting currency. While pledging support to France’s “Lebanese friends,” Macron also stressed that he would remain “vigilant” regarding any “terrorist activity” from Lebanon that could threaten either the Lebanese people or its southern neighbor Israel. Lebanon is technically still at war with Israel.

Impossible for Lebanese exchange rate to return to what it was: Finance minister

Reuters, Beirut/Wednesday, 22 January 2020
Lebanon’s new finance minister Ghazi Wazni told local media on Wednesday it would be “impossible” for the Lebanese pound exchange rate to the US dollar “to return to what it was.”He told broadcaster LBC that reining in the parallel market, where the price of dollars has risen beyond the official pegged rate, would be “tied to the government’s work.”Wazni added that “stopping the collapse” of Lebanon’s economy was feasible and would also require foreign support.

Lebanon needs foreign support, decision on Eurobond: New finance minister
Reuters, Beirut/Wednesday, 22 January 2020
Lebanon’s new government needs foreign support to help it rescue the country from an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, the finance minister said on Wednesday hours after he was named. The government must make a decision on a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March, Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni also told local broadcaster al-Jadeed. He said the Cabinet has to restore confidence because the country was in a state of collapse. Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed that his newly-unveiled government would strive to meet the demands of a three-month-old protest movement demanding radical change. One of the government’s first tasks will be to decide its approach to looming sovereign bond repayments, including a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March. Lebanon’s union of exchange dealers said on Tuesday it had decided to set the exchange rate at a maximum of 2,000 pounds to the US dollar in agreement with the central bank governor. The pound has been officially pegged at 1,507.50 to the dollar for more than two decades. Diab expressed hope that the currency would strengthen.

Lebanese protesters block roads in Beirut after new government announced
Joanne Serrieh, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 22 January 2020
Lebanese protesters blocked roads in the capital Beirut on Wednesday morning, the day after the new government was formed, according to Lebanese media sources. Lebanon formed a new government on Tuesday under Prime Minister Hassan Diab, backed by the Iranian-allied Hezbollah and allies including President Michel Aoun. Demonstrators overnight Tuesday took to the streets in protest against the new government with people gathering in front of one of the entrances leading to the parliament in the center of the capital.Further protests are expected after protesters widely condemned the new government and continued to call for an end to corruption and the current sectarian system.

New Quds Force deputy is Iran’s missile man in Lebanon
Jerusalem Post/January 22/2020
Mohammad Hejazi led IRGC forces in Lebanon and worked with Hezbollah to improve precision guidance.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force has a new deputy commander and he was the key to Hezbollah’s precision missile project. Mohammed Hejazi was previously a high ranking IRGC commander, a suppressor of protests in Iran and had been under Qasem Soleimani’s command as the central figure in Iran’s operations in Lebanon. According to a public IDF report released in August 2019 Hejazi was involved in Hezbollah’s precision guided missile project in Lebanon. The report said that he was an IRGC operative, commander of Iran’s precision guided missile project in Lebanon and directly commands Iranian personnel in Lebanon.” He has been in Lebanon for years, according to Iranian media sources and reports online at various regional media. Prior to going to Lebanon for the IRGC he was involved in research and logistics, making him keenly aware of how Iran moves its missiles to groups like Hezbollah. Ynet reported he was also linked to the 1994 AMIA bombing of the Jewish community center in Argentina. Hejazi, whose name is sometimes given as Seyyed Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi, or Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi, was born in 1956 in Isfahan. He fought in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and played a key role suppressing Kurds. Later he became a commander of the Basij militia in Iran and then rose through IRGC ranks to become a deputy commander and one of its most senior officers. He was sanctioned by the US in 2007 and the EU in 2011 for his role in human rights and other violations. He helped suppress protests for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. He faded from public view in 2014, and seems to have been in Lebanon during that time, helping Hezbollah stockpile and improve its estimated 150,000 missiles. Al-Ain media reports that he was Hezbollah’s key man linking them to the IRGC. He likely grew into this role after the death of Imad Mughniyeh who was assassinated in 2008. He helped supply arms to Hezbollah and help it with its precision guided missile programs. These programs have been spotlighted as a key threat to the region and Israel. Hezbollah wants to create local manufacturing bases for the precision guidance that would make its arsenal more dangerous. In March 2019 Israel said Hezbollah was seeking to set up an advanced missile plant in the Beka’a valley. In August Israel warned about the precision guidance. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also reportedly warned Lebanon about allowing Hezbollah to build precision guidance missile factories. Hejazi’s key role in Lebanon and his new role as deputy of the IRGC Quds Force shows that Iran has plans to strike abroad. Radio Farda reports that in the post-Soleimani era Hejazi’s new role is “a huge promotion because of [Ayatollah] Khamenei’s now openly expressed strategy of keeping the war with the United States and Israel outside Iranian borders.”

Technocrats or autocrats? Lebanon’s new cabinet meet as protesters slam ‘government of failure’
The New Arab/January 22/2020
Lebanon’s new cabinet met for the first time on Wednesday amid continuing anger from protesters who deem Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government doomed to fail. Diab’s 20-strong cabinet, unveiled on Tuesday, faces the twin challenges of the country’s nosediving economy and a tenacious protest movement in swing since 17 October last year. The former education minister has promised to meet the demands from the street but has so far failed to assuage widespread concerns that his government will represent the latest showing of a political elite Lebanese protesters have vowed to oust.
Diab takes over the role from Saad Al-Hariri, who resigned two weeks into the landmark protests. Lebanon’s various political factions struggled to agree upon a replacement candidate, while demonstrators demanded a technocratic, non-sectarian government. The new premier has termed his government one of experts, but protesters are not so sure of that designation. Even before the cabinet was announced, thousands of people poured onto the streets, closing major roads in Beirut and other parts of the country. Later, a group of protesters near parliament threw stones, firecrackers and sticks at security forces, who responded with tear gas and pepper spray. On Tuesday evening, demonstrators burned tyres as they expressed their displeasure at the new line-up, with some singing “Yalla [come on], get out Hassan”. “Instead of the corrupt politicians, we got the corrupt politicians’ friends,” said Ahmad Zaid, a 21-year-old student. Demonstrators have complained that political groups were still involved in the naming of the new ministers, even if they are specialists and academics.
Diab has rebutted that the new picks have no political loyalties despite being annointed in a process involving bickering between factions with little regard for the desires of protesters. “This government is going from one failure to another,” 43-year-old Nouhad Salloum told The Daily Star. #GovernmentOfFailure was a trending hashtag on Twitter in Lebanon on Tuesday evening. “The people have been sacrificing themselves for 97 days demanding an independent government… but [the politicians] brought one that suits them.” Karin, 18, added: “I am with the people and the revolution, I am not against anyone… I just wish someone would listen to us; that’s all we want.” Similar rallies took place in Tripoli – a hotbed of the protest movement – Sidon, Byblos and other cities. The 61-year-old former professor admitted on Wednesday he faces a number of stark challenges.
“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 backed Diab’s designation last month. Western sanctions on the Iran-backed organisation 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”. The cabinet comprises 20 ministers and among its six women is Zeina Akar, Lebanon’s first-ever female defence minister. The number is a record for the country.To downsize the cabinet, some portfolios were merged resulting in at times baffling combinations such as a single ministry for culture and agriculture.
Economy in freefall
Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said on Wednesday it would be “impossible” for the Lebanese lira exchange rate to the US dollar to “return to what it was”. He told broadcaster LBC that “stopping the collapse” of Lebanon’s economy was faesible but would require foreign support.
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. 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. On Tuesday evening, the Syndicate of Money Changers in Lebanon issued a statement saying it had agreed to set the exchange rate at a maximum of 2,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, after it reached 2,500 pounds to the dollar last week. The official price still stands at 1,507 to the dollar. The liquidity crunch in Lebanon has led banks to impose crippling capital controls, in turn seeing the banks themselves become a key target of protesters’ anger. “Regarding the economic situation, I repeat that this is one of our priorities,” Diab said Tuesday night.
“We need to be given a little time,” he added. Alain Aoun, nephew of President Michel Aoun and a senior member of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), told Reuters on Wednesday that an International Monetary Fund programme could be an option for saving the economy.
The FPM, founded by the president, nominated six of the 20 new ministers. The new government may be wary to implement an IMF programme if its demands exert too much pressure on an already struggling public, however. “The top priority is to put in place a rescue programme for financing Lebanon’s needs and one of the options is an IMF programme,” Aoun said. “But we have to understand first what are the requirements and to see if they are bearable or acceptable to us as Lebanese, because we don’t want to have a social problem in addition to the financial crisis… We have to be careful not to trigger social unrest,” he said.  Agencies contributed to this report

Lebanon’s divisive new cabinet faces a near impossible task amid heightened protests and increasing repression
Rami G. Khouri/The New Arab/January 22/2020
The fourth consecutive month of Lebanon’s unprecedented political and economic crisis kicked off this week with three dramatic developments that will interplay in the coming months to define the country’s direction for years to come: Escalating protests on the streets, heightened security measures by an increasingly militarising state, and now, a new cabinet of controversial so-called “independent technocrats” led by Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab. Seeking to increase pressure on the political elite to act responsibly amid inaction vis-a-vis the slow collapse of the economy, the protesters had launched the fourth month of their protest movement, which had begun on 17 October last year, with a ‘Week of Anger’, stepping up their tactics and targeting banks and government institutions. There was a step change in the tactics with violent clashes, outbreaks of small fires, and attacks on banks and government agencies.
Hundreds were injured, mostly protesters, but also some security personnel. Protesters openly called for the “downfall of the military state” and the “banker state” they blame for their economic and political misery. Beyond the large nationwide demonstrations, new tactics have included almost daily smaller protests at government agencies or officials’ homes, targeted and temporary street blockings, crowds picketing police stations to release detainees, and shaming officials by hounding them out of restaurants, concerts, meetings, and other public events. Despite this shift, however, the protesters’ main aims have remained constant since the uprising started: Forming a new government of truly independent specialists who can tackle the country’s most pressing threats, led by the collapsing economy and services, then oversee transition towards a new accountable political system free of the corruption, inefficiency, and indifference that most people blame on the traditional sectarian spoil-sharing system.
The ruling class crackdown
Days before announcing the new cabinet, whose members have generated very mixed public reactions and were immediately rejected by the protest organisers, the ruling elites responded with intense security measures against protesters. Indeed, the new government has been announced in the midst of a security crackdown defined by greater violence and more arrests, and fences and walls erected around some government buildings. Some 500 people were treated for injuries in the past ten days, including a few who were hit in the face or body by tear gas canisters, water cannons, and rubber bullets. Two young men each lost an eye, a woman alleged that interrogators threatened her with rape, and others were filmed being beaten as they were taken from vans into police stations. Over 100 demonstrators were detained last week, but most were let go after crowds gathered at the detention centres to demand their release.
A few hurled firecrackers and stones at the police, tried to attack them with tree branches and uprooted metal street signs and security barriers, or smashed bank facades and ATM machines. Local analysts blame a variety of groups for the heightened violence, including extreme leftists, destitute youth with no future, middle class protesters whose patience had run out after 3 months of state inaction, or thugs from major political groups who sought to scare the citizenry into ending the protests. For its part, the authorities said they needed to maintain order and prevent the destruction of public and private property.
Questions of legitimacy
The new 20-member government was named essentially by only half the main political parties. It starts its work in this highly charged and polarised atmosphere that will persist, because most people see Diab’s government as simply a new formula for sectarian political chieftains to indirectly control state power.
Most of the ministers are not widely known political figures, and while a few are respected experts in fields like law and foreign policy, the majority were named by political parties and are close allies, subordinates, or advisers of some of the leading sectarian leaders who are the target of the protests in the first place. Activists feel deceived, angered, and humiliated by what they see as the ruling elite’s attempt to perpetuate its power through a smoke-and-mirrors operation that will not deceive the citizenry. Yet the government’s appointment and its anticipated approval by parliament create a new dynamic that could result in a shift in protest tactics. Many of the “revolutionaries” who blocked main and secondary roads throughout the country on Wednesday morning are debating two strategies: keep going with their street disruptions and open rejection of the government because it seems to perpetuate the sectarian elite’s control of power, or shift towards pressuring the ministers with transparent accountability mechanisms to ensure that they carry out the reform promises they expect.  The security agencies’ more severe crowd control measures — at one point army troops filed into central Beirut carrying RPG’s — is widely interpreted here as a sign that the sectarian ruling elite fears it may be losing its grip in the face of growing and more defiant street protests by a citizenry that is ever more poor and hopeless.Political leaders who worry that their usual sectarian loyalty means of forcing citizen compliance with their policies are no longer effective may have decided to crush the protests by force.
Lebanon imports Arab regime dysfunctions
These local developments should also be seen against the backdrop of a much more troubling reality: Lebanon is especially noteworthy today because it has joined the wider arena of similar Arab dysfunction and protest, which has been defined by two troubling trends among Arab states in recent decades — the pauperization and helplessness of citizens, and the militarisation and detached arrogance of the government. Most Lebanese now mirror the political anger, economic stress, and psychological humiliation — even dehumanisation — that is so evident in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, Egypt, and other Arab societies where protests of different scales have gone on for the past decade. Few of Lebanon’s stresses are unique in our distraught Arab region where many desperate and increasingly impoverished citizens struggle against their government’s negligence, criminality, and increasing militarisation.
Lebanon will soon reveal if it will persist in this direction, or pull back from the likelihood of more deaths in its streets which increasingly resemble those of Iraq, Sudan and even Syria.
*Rami G. Khouri is senior public policy fellow, adjunct professor of journalism, and Journalist-in-Residence at the American University of Beirut, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative.

Lebanon gets a new Hezbollah-backed government amid mounting unrest
Liz Sly and Suzan Haidamous/The Washington Post/January 22/2020
BEIRUT — Lebanon formed a government Tuesday that is controlled exclusively for the first time by Hezbollah and its allies, affirming the Iranian-backed movement’s increasingly powerful role in the country and raising concerns about Lebanon’s ability to halt a spiral of economic and political collapse.
Protesters, who have been demanding a government aligned with none of the existing political factions, called for fresh demonstrations against the new cabinet, which they said failed to meet their demands for substantial change.
The dominant role in the government’s formation played by Iranian-allied Hezbollah, which proposed the candidacy of Prime Minister Hassan Diab in December and has pushed forcefully in recent days for his lineup of ministers, risks alienating some of Lebanon’s traditional Western allies, including the United States, at a time when Lebanon’s collapsing economy urgently needs international assistance.
The announcement of a cabinet by Diab, a professor at the American University of Beirut, broke three months of political deadlock during which Lebanon had no functioning government and the country continued a slide toward economic and financial collapse. The previous prime minister, the Western-allied Saad Hariri, resigned in October in response to massive street protests demanding a complete overhaul of the country’s decades-old system of corrupt, sectarian rule.
Supporters of the new government are hoping that Diab, a relative unknown, can win over the protesters and convince foreign donors that he represents a new breed of politician capable of implementing reforms. The chief demand of the protest movement was for a cabinet of technocrats, devoid of political affiliation, who would break the vicious cycle of patronage and corruption that has pushed Lebanon into crisis.
Diab promised in a televised address that he would meet the protesters’ demands and carry out reforms.
“This is a government that represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilized nationwide for more than three months,” he said.
But as the names of the new ministers leaked to the press in the days leading up to the announcement, it became clear that most, if not all, are proteges of the existing elites. Last-minute haggling among politicians over the final composition of the cabinet was played out in the media, giving another indication that this government offers neither a break from the past nor a reason to believe it can unite the dangerously fractured country, analysts said.
It is also a government representing only one of the two major blocs in the country’s parliament, meaning that Lebanon now has what people are calling a “one color” government for the first time since Syrian troops withdrew from the country 15 years ago.
Though Hezbollah has steadily increased its role in mainstream politics over the past 15 years and has held seats in many previous governments, this is the first time a government has been formed that does not include Western allies, calling into question its ability to win the support needed to secure international aid.
Even if the government turns out not to be Hezbollah-controlled, it will be seen as “a Hezbollah-directed government because of the way the prime minister was chosen,” said Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “It’s going to be very hard to walk that one down.”
“It is a government that will have to walk a fine line between providing a protective cover for Hezbollah and being acceptable to the international community,” she added.
Hezbollah will control just two ministries in the 20-member cabinet, according to analyses of the ministers’ allegiances in the Lebanese press, by diplomats and by people close to Hezbollah. The lion’s share of seats goes to supporters of the group’s Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement headed by Gebran Bassil, the outgoing foreign minister and son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun. Others are distributed among other Hezbollah allies, including the Shiite Amal movement and other smaller parties belonging to the country’s Christian and Druze religious groups.
The government’s composition also signaled a return to influence in Lebanon for the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad for the first time since Syrian troops were forced to withdraw from Lebanon under pressure from mass protests in April 2005. Several of the parties represented are known for their loyalties to Assad during the 9-year-old Syrian war, and Hezbollah fighters played a key role in ensuring Assad’s survival in the face of a nationwide rebellion.
Also on Tuesday, the Lebanese authorities freed an American freelance journalist who had been detained two days earlier on suspicion of sending footage of anti-government protests to an Israeli news outlet.
Nicholas Frakes, 24, said he is happy to be free and looking forward to “getting back to reporting the news.”
The Lebanese authorities had accused Frakes of live-streaming footage of violent protests to the Israeli news outlet Haaretz, in violation of Lebanese laws forbidding interaction with Israel, an enemy state. Haaretz issued a statement saying it had no contact with Frakes and had been using footage supplied by the international news agency Reuters.
*Haidamous reported from Washington.
*Liz Sly is The Washington Post’s Beirut bureau chief, covering Lebanon, Syria and the wider region. She has spent more than 17 years covering the Middle East, including the first and second Iraq wars. Other postings include Washington, Africa, China, Afghanistan and Italy.Follow

Profile: Lebanon’s new cabinet members, including the Arab world’s first-ever female defence chief
The New Arab/January 22/2020
Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Tuesday appointed his purportedly “technocratic” cabinet of 20 ministers. Although at first glance the selection comprises of many previously unknown figures – the majority PhD holders and other specialists – several of the new appointees have ties to the “old guard”.
This has watered down hopes for an entirely fresh-faced team to lead the country out of economic crisis and political stagnation. Some appointees have been hailed by the protesters, including the introduction of six women, such as Zeina Akar, the first female defence minister of an Arab country. Other candidate picked have been slammed for their close ties to corrupt elements of the previous administration and its economic policies which brought Lebanon to its knees.Comment: Lebanon’s divisive new cabinet faces a near impossible task amid heightened protests and increasing repression
Prime Minister: Hassan Diab
An academic and former education minister, Diab was little-known in Lebanon until he was designated last month with the backing of the powerful Shia movements Hezbollah and Amal, we well as the right-wing Christian ruling party, the Free Patriotic Movement.
Although a Sunni, as the role of prime minister is designated to be, Diab lacks support from Lebanon’s Sunni population.
Following his appointment, the 60-year-old was duly mocked by protesters for his 136-page CV available online, and the 1,315-page book he wrote on his achievements while education minister, between 2011 to 2014.
An engineering professor, when not in the political sphere Diab has held positions within the American University of Beirut (AUB).
In his first comments as premier, Diab insisted that his cabinet was a technocratic one that would strive to meet protesters’ demands.
“This is a government that represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilised nationwide for more than three months,” he said.
He said his government “will strive to meet their demands for an independent judiciary, for the recovery of embezzled funds, for the fight against illegal gains”.
Deputy PM and Defence: Zeina Akar
FPM pick/Greek Orthodox
Akar is the executive director of Beirut-based research and consultancy firm Information International, founded by her husband Jawad Adra, who is one of the country’s most prominent businessmen.
According to Information International’s website, Akar leads the company’s survey research, database collection and project analysis for the Arab world and the Near East in the areas of health, education, agriculture, and infrastructure facilities.
The businesswoman, who holds a degree in social sciences from the Lebanese American University, was initially criticised by some for not having any specialist experience in defence or the military.
However, this was soon called out as sexist as many male defence and other ministers are far from experts in their ministerial portfolios.
Zeina Akar, minister of defense as part of FPM’s share, is the wife of Jawad Adra who’s known for stealing and dealing in historical artificats stolen from all over the region
Foreign Affairs: Nassif Hitti
FPM pick/Maronite
Replacing the reviled Gebran Bassil, Hitti is an academic specialised in International Relations, having obtained a doctorate in the subject from the University of South Carolina. He currently directs the political institute within the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, north of Beirut.
A seasoned diplomat, Hitti formerly served as the Lebanese ambassador the Arab League. Meanwhile, he writes regularly for Lebanese newspaper Annahar and Egyptian daily Shorouk.
Interior: Mohamed Fahmi
PM’s pick/Sunni
The appointment of former army general Fahmi has been met with ire by protesters, chiefly over his praise for the security forces’ violent crackdown on protesters, on top of his tenure as Lebanon’s director of military intelligence from 1997 and 2006.
In other words, he is very experienced in repression tactics, which is especially controversial given the past weeks’ anger against the violent suppression of peaceful anti-government demonstrations, which has also included the forced disappearances and allegations of torture.
Fahmi studied management at James Madison University in Virginia, US before enlisting in the Lebanese Army in 1978, three years after the civil war began. More recently, he worked at an adviser on security affairs at Blom Bank since 2016.
Finance: Ghazi Wazni
Amal pick/Shia
A former economic advisor to Lebanon’s Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, as well as an adviser to the parliamentary finance and budget committee, the appointment of Wazni has been wildly unpopular. Protesters do not trust someone with such close links to the establishment – deemed as corrupt – to take on the monumental task of lifting Lebanon out of its acute financial crisis.
Wazni is a former economics professor and consultant who runs his own research firm.
Justice: Marie-Claude Najm
FPM pick/Maronite
One of the six women in the cabinet, Najm serves as a professor of law at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, where she directs the Centre for Legal Studies and Research for the Arab World.
She is the niece of former culture minister Naji Boustani, who served in the shortlived Omar Karami government from 2004 to 2005.
Environment and Administrative Development: Damianos Kattar
PM’s pick, Maronite
An economist, Kattar previously served as finance minister and is an economist. He was briefly Lebanon’s finance minister in Najib Mikati’s very shortlived three-month long government in 2005.
Telecommunications: Talal Hawat
Consultative Gathering pick/Sunni
Hawat worked for 19 years for American technology company Cisco in the US and Lebanon.
More recently, in 2018, he was appointed regional vice president for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey with Canadian company Sandvine, a networking equipment company where he previously worked as sales director.
Energy Minister: Raymond Ghajar
FPM pick/Greek Orthodox
Ghajar has equally been reviled by protesters for being issue of the previous establishment. Serving as an advisor to Gebran Bassil, Ghajar has worked in the ministry since 1995.
As part of his role as senior energy policy adviser, he contributed to a electricity policy paper in 2010 that failed to deliver round-the-clock power to the country.
Ghajar holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada and has been a professor of electrical engineering at the Lebanese American University since 1995.
Information Minister: Manal Abdel Samad
LDP pick/Druze
Samad holds a doctorate in law from the esteemed Sorbonne University in Paris.
Although a relatively unknown name, Samad worked in the Finance Ministry since 1997, leading the Tax and Auditing Authority, eventually working in the government group that first created and implemented VAT in Lebanon.
She later became a lecturer at AUB and Saint Joseph University, teaching administrative leadership, public finances and fiscal studies. She is currently also affiliated with the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy.
Economy Minister: Raoul Nehme
FPM pick/Greek Catholic
Nehme’s appointment has been met with disappointment from protesters, over his close ties to many of Lebanon’s banks which are blamed for mismanaging the country’s money, including serving as Chairman at ASTROBank and Executive General Manager at BankMed, Nehme previously managed BLC Bank.
Nehme originally studied engineering at France’s Ecole Polytechnique.
Public Works: Michel Najjar
Marada Movement/Greek Orthodox
Having obtained a PhD in civil engineering in the US, Najjar later returned to Lebanon to work at Balamand University as a lecturer.
He now serves as vice president for academic and administrative affairs at the American University of Technology in Lebanon.
Health Minister: Hamad Hassan
Hezbollah pick/Shia
The former mayor of Baalbek and president of Baalbek Municipalities Federation, Hassan is widely distrusted due to his ties to Hezbollah.
Hassan has a PhD in Molecular Biological Sciences from Moscow’s Institute of Biological and Environmental Research in Moscow. He serves as a professor at the College of Public Health at the Lebanese University, directing the department of laboratory sciences.
Labour Minister: Lamia Yammine
Marada Movement/Maronite
At 45, Yammime is among the younger of the cabinet appointees, as well as being a relative outsider. An architect and professor at the Lebanese University in Tripoli, she is a board member of a wood design company in Lebanon.
Social Affairs and Tourism Minister: Ramzi Mousharrafiyeh
LDP pick/Druze
A less straightforward appointee, Mousharrafiyeh is a professor of orthopaedic surgery.
Youth and Sports Minister: Varti Ohanian
Tashnag pick/Armenian Christian
A social worker, Ohanian directs a Beirut-based education centre for children with special needs.
Education Minister: Tarek Majzoub
PM’s pick, Sunni
A judge at State Shura Council, Majzoub teaches law at Lebanon’s Sagesse University.
Agriculture and Culture Minister: Abbas Mortada
Amal pick/Shia
A seemingly mismatched dual portfolio, Mortada managed a real estate company as well as a hotel until 2019. He holds a master’s degree in history from the Lebanese University of Beirut and is currently studying for a PhD.
Minister for the Displaced: Ghada Shreim
FPM pick/Greek Catholic
Shreim, the sixth and final female minister, is a professor at the Lebanese University, according to Lebanese media.
Industry Minister: Imad Hoballah
Hezbollah pick/Shia
Hoballah, who holds a doctorate in electrical engineering, has been the provost of the American University of Dubai since 2017, teaching across the US and Lebanon.
 

Anti-government protesters wave a Lebanese flag and hide behind a wood barrier from a water cannon as they clash with the riot police during a protest against the new government, near the parliament square, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. 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. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)