Protesters have blocked roads across crisis-hit Lebanon on Friday to condemn the designation of Hezbollah-backed Hassan Diab as prime minister in a divisive vote that sparked uproar among members of the Sunni community.
Diab, a 60-year-old Sunni, was designated on Thursday with the endorsement of Shia group Hezbollah and its allies but without backing from Lebanon’s main Sunni bloc.
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The decision increased anger among members of Lebanon’s Sunni community who said Diab did not enjoy the sect’s backing for a post reserved for Sunni Muslims by a power-sharing system enshrined after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
Lebanon has had a caretaker government since October 29, when Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned amid a mass uprising against the ruling elite.
In the mainly Sunni city of Tripoli in north Lebanon, which was already rocked by rallies and roadblocks on Thursday, schools were closed and opponents of Diab again blockaded roads amid calls for a general strike, AFP news agency reported.
Roads were also closed in the neighbouring Akkar district and several other parts of north Lebanon, said the state-run National News Agency, while burning tyres and rubbish bins also stopped traffic on roads in east Lebanon and main arteries connecting the capital to the south.
Protesters have blocked streets across Lebanon to protest the appointment of Hassan Diab as the new PM. pic.twitter.com/ttTcGMiPiB
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) December 20, 2019
Diab served as education minister from 2011 to 2014 in a cabinet made up of Hezbollah and its allies. On Thursday, he said he would begin consultations on Saturday with parties on the formation of the next government and urged protesters to “give me a chance”.
“I call on Lebanese in all squares and all areas to be partners in a workshop of reform,” Diab said.
Diab on Friday told German media outlet Deutsche Welle that he would attempt to form government in six weeks.
But forming the government would be a “real challenge” since Diab had a “very small majority of parliament behind him”, according to Heiko Wimmen of the International Crisis Group.
“The way it [Diab’s selection] happened, it has alienated one of the biggest groups in the country, and that is the Sunni community,” Wimmen told Al Jazeera.
The path forward
During Thursday’s consultations, Diab received 69 votes from the parliamentary blocs of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a group of five pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs and a number of other allied blocs.
Meanwhile, 42 MPs abstained from voting, including Hariri’s Future Movement bloc, the Lebanese Forces bloc, former Prime Ministers Tammam Salam and Najib Mikati and a number of independent parliamentarians.
Nawaf Salam, a judge on the International Court of Justice, received 13 votes from the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), Kataeb Party and FPM member of parliament Michel Moawad. Political activist and professor Halima el-Kaakour received a single vote from independent member of parliament Paula Yacoubian.
Additional reporting by Timour Azhari