Hassan Diab, Lebanon's 'technocratic' premier

Layal Abou Rahal
1 / 2

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab says he is "one of the rare technocrat ministers since Lebanon's independence"

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab says he is "one of the rare technocrat ministers since Lebanon's independence" (AFP Photo/-)

Beirut (AFP) - Hassan Diab, who will lead the new Lebanese government announced on Tuesday, is a self-described "technocrat" propelled to the helm by the endorsement of Shiite movement Hezbollah and its allies.

The little-known 61-year-old engineering professor replaced outgoing Saad Hariri and faces what he himself described Tuesday evening as "a difficult time" in Lebanon's history.

If his government is confirmed by parliament, he will take office amid nationwide protests demanding an overhaul of the political system, amid the worst economic crisis since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

But while his appointment on December 19 was backed by Hezbollah-allied parliamentary blocs, Diab did not win the backing of parties from his own Sunni community and the relative newcomer has got off to a rocky start.

It took him more than a month to make political allies agree on a line-up and he gave up on some of his initial goals as the traditional horsetrading between Lebanon's historical factions took over.

His designation last month was not welcomed by protesters who have been in the street since October 17 to demand the wholesale overhaul of a political system they say is driven by sectarianism and nepotism.

Diab was widely mocked on social media for a 1,000-page self-published book in which he listed his achievements. He saw protesters mass in front of his Beirut home, asking him to step down, before he was even sworn in.

Protesters were quick to gather in front of parliament to protest against the new line-up on Tuesday, blocking several key roads in and around Beirut.

- Academic -

A father of three, Diab is an independent who had shied away from the political limelight since leaving his post as education minister in 2014.

He is a career academic who earned a PhD in Computer Engineering from Britain's University of Bath before becoming a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the American University of Beirut.

Diab has held several academic and administrative posts at the university -- including that of vice president -- since joining it as an assistant professor at the age of 26.

He is a self-styled advocate for educational reform in Lebanon, authoring books and several papers on the subject.

"I am certain that the solution to most of our economic, unemployment, social, financial, and even political challenges, lies in education in all its forms," he writes on his website.

His brief previous experience in politics came at a time of political polarisation in Lebanon.

His tenure as education minister between 2011 and 2014 was in a government formed after Hariri's cabinet was brought down by Hezbollah and its political allies.

The government he is to lead "will be dominated by Hezbollah (and its allies) without political cover from Hariri and the Sunnis," said Imad Salamey, a political science professor at the Lebanese American University.

"This will drive Lebanon towards a Sunni-Shiite schism."

- 'Rare technocrat minister' -

Repeating the sequence that made him a minister eight years ago, Diab rose to the post of premier as a result of Hariri bowing out.

Hariri resigned on October 29, nearly two weeks into a nationwide cross-sectarian protest movement demanding the removal of a political class seen as corrupt and incompetent.

Diab is not an established party member nor a vocal supporter of any particular group.

He described himself on his website as "one of the rare technocrat ministers since Lebanon's independence" in the 1940s.

Yet analysts argue that the lengthy government formation process confirms the suspicion that behind every technocrat is a political party pulling the strings.

On October 20, three days after the start of unprecedented nationwide demonstrations, he called the protests a "historical and awe-inspiring scene".

The love was not reciprocated, and demonstrators have treated him with distrust over his past participation in government.

But Samar Hamdan, who has been his neighbour for 15 years, said she has "only seen good things from him".

"He is a prominent academic... who remained humble when he became a minister," she told AFP.

She said she hoped his appointment will be a "blessing" for the country.