Hezbollah-backed professor asked to form Lebanese government

Lebanon's president asks former education minister Hassan Diab to form a new government amid unrest.

Ben Ariel ,

Hassan Diab
Hassan Diab

Lebanon's president on Thursday asked a university professor and former education minister supported by the Hezbollah terrorist group to form a new government, The Associated Press reports.

But prime minister-designate Hassan Diab's efforts to form a government will almost certainly hit snags in a deeply divided country facing its worst economic and financial crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

Analysts said Diab is backed by one political group in parliament and failed to secure a consensus, including from his Sunni community at exceptionally difficult times. According to the country's sectarian-based system, the premier has to come from Sunni community.

Diab’s nomination follows unprecedented nationwide demonstrations against Lebanon's reviled political elite which led to the resignation of the previous Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

While Hariri, who stayed on as caretaker premier, looked like he might attempt to keep his seat, he said on Wednesday his name was drawing too much opposition for him to be a candidate.

The protests in Lebanon were initially started in response to what has become known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users. The tax was later scrapped but the protests have continued and have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilization against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.

In his first public address, Diab said on Thursday he would work quickly to form a government in consultations with political parties and representatives of the protest movement.

He added he is committed to a reform plan and described the current situation as "critical and sensitive" requiring exceptional efforts and collaboration.

"We are facing a national crisis that doesn't allow for the luxury of personal and political battles but needs national unity," Diab said. He told the protesters he hears their "pain."

President Michel Aoun named Diab prime minister after a day of consultations with lawmakers in which he gained a simple majority of the 128-member parliament. 69 lawmakers, including the parliamentary bloc of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal movements, as well as lawmakers affiliated with Aoun, gave him their votes.

The past few days were marked by a spike in tensions on the ground, with counter-demonstrators supporting Amal and Hezbollah clashing with security forces.