A new government has been announced in Lebanon over a year after the previous administration quit following the devastating Beirut port explosion.
Najib Mikati – Lebanon’s richest man – becomes prime minister, a position he has held twice before.
His appointment, along with the naming of a new cabinet, ends months of political paralysis.
The value of the currency has collapsed, unemployment and inflation have soared, electricity, fuel and medicines are in short supply, and the country has been rocked by nearly two years of protests calling for wholesale political reforms.
Lebanon had been without a proper functioning government since then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after a massive blast on 4 August 2020 destroyed Beirut port and the surrounding area.
The explosion, caused by improperly stored ammonium nitrate, killed 203 people, injured at least 6,000 others and left billions of dollars of damage.
The disaster – coming in the midst of the pandemic – triggered a wave of outrage against the government and Lebanon’s political system. Protesters blamed the blast on corruption, incompetence and a system of patronage where jobs are given in return for political support.
The event compounded growing anger which had been building since the start of the financial crisis in late 2019. In the last few months alone the Lebanese currency has lost 90% of its value, while three quarters of the population are now living below the poverty line.
Speaking to the BBC after announcing the new cabinet, Mr Mikati said one of his first priorities would be to restart talks with the International Monetary Fund to secure a financial rescue package.
“You know what a critical situation we are in,” he said, noting the growing strain on the education and healthcare sectors, as well as the increasing numbers of people leaving the country.
He added that despite his own wealth, he was able to understand the impact of the current crisis on people’s lives: “I have three children… outside Lebanon. So I feel with people. I feel the kind of poverty, the kind of hunger they are in, the fear they have of the future. So this is not just a matter of money or not [having] money.”
Lebanon’s delicate sectarian power-sharing system had stymied repeated attempts to form a government in the wake of Hassan Diab’s resignation.
Since the end of the 1975-89 civil war, political power has been delicately balanced between its many sects, with the president a Christian, prime minister a Sunni Muslim and Speaker a Shia Muslim. An inability to come to an agreement on the nomination of ministers to the satisfaction of various factions and blocs held up the process.