Hassan Diab

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== You are Hassan Diab, Prime Minister of Lebanon==

Contents

Early Years and Political Life

You were born in Beirut in 1959. In 1981, you received a bachelor’s degree in communications engineering from Leeds University in England. You did additional graduate work over the next four years, culminating in your earning a doctorate in computer engineering from the University of Bath (England) in 1985. After your graduation you took a position on the faculty of the American University in Beirut (AUB), where you have worked ever since. In addition to being a professor, you served as a Vice President at AUB and (during an authorized leave) as the founding President and Dean of the College of Engineering at Dhofar University in Oman.

In 2011, newly appointed Prime Minister Najib Mikati offered you the post of Minister of Education in his cabinet. You had long been an advocate the paramount importance of education, writing of your belief that “the solution to most of our economic, unemployment, social, financial, and even political challenges lies in education in all its forms.” An article on the Middle East Eye website makes the point that you have never lacked for confidence, quoting you as saying that you were “blessed with an innate sense of wisdom from my early years accompanied…by the grace of God to make the right choices since my teen years.”

Your time as Minister of Education came in a government that was shaky from the start, in part because of lack of support from Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim parties. Mikati was a Sunni (as all Lebanese Prime Ministers must be) but he was understood to be the preferred candidate of the Shi’ite Hezbollah party, and his government never had the broad support it needed to be sustainable. Mikati lost his post in 2014, bringing your tenure as Minister of Education to an end.

You had gained visibility, though, and over the next five years, two more governments came and went, neither able to establish themselves well enough to truly transcend the sectarian divides that have bedeviled Lebanese politics. As a result, responsibility for many of the basic function of government have been given to sectarian groups of various kinds, and the result has not been good. Lebanon’s economy has also been badly damaged by the costs of providing for a huge influx of refugees from Syria, and basic services like providing dependable electricity, water, and garbage pickup have been badly mishandled, while corruption is widespread.

As a consequence of this, in 2019 the Lebanese people took to the streets in protest and, in contrast with other political protests in recent Lebanese history, the protests engaged people of all faith backgrounds. In response to these anti-government protests, Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri ultimately decided to resign, apparently feeling that he didn’t have the political strength to act decisively, and stating that “no one’s bigger than the nation.” A number of candidates were put forth, but none gained the needed support until the two major Shi’ite parties, Hezbollah and Amal, found common ground with the Christian Free Patriotic movement, long headed by Lebanese President Michael Aoun, to secure a narrow majority in parliament in favor of your nomination. You were put forth as a “technocrat,” meaning someone possessing professional and management expertise who was not a political figure. Whether or not you can hold and sustain power with such an orientation is the big question, given the fact that despite your being a Sunni Muslim, only six Sunni members of parliament voted in favor of your nomination as Prime Minister, none of them from the major Sunni party, Sa’ad Hariri’s Future Movement.

While we’re on this topic, let’s talk briefly about how the Lebanese political system works…

The Lebanese Electoral System

The country of Lebanon has one of the most interesting electoral systems in the world. Seats within parliament are assigned proportionally to religious sects across the nation. Within Lebanon, no religious group has a majority. There are 18 different recognized religious groups, with 128 seats of parliament spread proportionally among them. Districts are not segregated. A district might be assigned to Sunnis, meaning only Sunni politicians can run there, however, non-Sunnis are free to vote for whichever Sunni politician they choose. The parliament also reserves certain offices for particular religious groups. The President of Lebanon is a post reserved for Maronite Christians. The office of Prime Minister, as previously mentioned, is reserved for Sunni Muslims. The speaker of parliament must be a Shiite Muslim. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President; however, he must maintain the confidence of parliament. This means that while he is guaranteed to be a Sunni, he must have enough votes from Parliament to ensure that he can survive a vote of no confidence. A vote of no confidence is like an impeachment vote, but it is easier to make happen. It can be called for any reason, not just where there are accusations of wrongdoing. Should a majority vote to support a motion of no confidence, the Prime Minister is immediately removed from office.


Your Position/Role Playing Notes

We should start by saying that you probably belong with Hezbollah Coalition, as it was their support that made your candidacy viable. However, since you are a Sunni (as all Lebanese Prime Ministers must be) and the March 14th Coalition is made up of mostly Sunni leaders, we are placing you here…especially since you’ve pledged to be a non-political manager.

Like so many Lebanese Prime Ministers before you, you will rely on a fragile coalition formed of many groups, forcing you to strike a middle ground…if you can. The stability of your government is frankly also dependent on the sentiments and actions of outside actors, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. You must appear to be open to working with all parties and groups and, indeed, this may in fact be the case. However, remember that you cannot afford to lose the support of large parties such as Hezbollah. Also, you must consider that Hezbollah has outside partners with whom you will be expected to work. Syria is a close ally of Hezbollah, as is Iran. Alienating them would only serve to torpedo your government. You must attempt to strike a middle ground and appease many forces, while not deepening fears felt by Western leaders, suspicious of a leader supported by Hezbollah. You are a Muslim, of course, but you are not an Islamist who believes that politics and government should be guided by Islamic teachings. You must view Hezbollah as a responsible political actor and at the same time attempt to assuage international fears that Lebanon is being governed by radicals.

One final point. The fact that you were able to form a government and actually become Prime Minister was due to Hezbollah’s support of your government. Although you would be foolish to take for granted the support of Lebanese Sunnis, you were accepted by Hezbollah and its allies. You will have lots of behind-the-scenes political work to do in order to keep your government afloat, and to establish strong enough connections with Lebanon’s Sunni community in order for your government to be viable. You are in this role because of the support of Hezbollah, and your ability to maintain a working relationship with the Hezbollah Coalition will be essential in determining the success of the newly-formed government. During the protests, you tweeted that “in a majestic historical scene, the Lebanese people unified to defend their right to a free and dignified life,” adding that the protests inspire visions of a better future where Lebanon can “return to its glory, brilliance, and prosperity.” You now have an opportunity to enact this ‘majestic’ vision…you will need every bit of your smarts and your skills to make progress in this direction.

Sources

“Who is Hassan Diab, Lebanon's next prime minister?” The National, 12-20-19. https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/who-is-hassan-diab-lebanon-s-next-prime-minister-1.953891

“Hassan Diab: The man charged with pulling Lebanon from the mire” by Kareem Chehayeb, Middle East Eye, 12-20-19. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/hassan-diab-man-charged-pulling-lebanon-mire

“Lebanon, Mired in Crises, Turns to a Professor as Prime Minister” by Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad, New York Times, 12-19-19. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/19/world/middleeast/lebanon-prime-minister-hassan-diab.html

“Lebanon protests: University professor Hassan Diab nominated to be PM” BBC News: 12-19-19. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-50851319

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