By Arab News
By Najia Houssari
Leading activists in Lebanon’s protest movement rejected an offer to hold talks with incoming prime minister Hassan Diab over his efforts to form a new government and end the country’s political stalemate.
Diab, a university professor and former education minister, began consultations on Saturday with parliamentary blocs to discuss the shape of the future government.
The prime minister designate will have to steer Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crisis in decades amid continuing nationwide protests over alleged corruption among the country’s political elite.
Protesters took to the streets again on Sunday, the 67th day of the protests against Lebanon’s leadership. Demonstrators traveled by bus from Tripoli, Saida, Tyre and Nabatieh, and gathered in Martyrs’ Square in the heart of Beirut under the slogan “Sunday of Determination.”
The incoming PM hoped to hold talks with leaders of the civil movement “to listen to their demands.” However, only four junior activists turned up to the meeting.
Activist Mahmoud Fakih told Arab News: “Diab’s office is calling on activists to meet him. Since the first day, we said that there is no leadership for the revolution and that every single protester is a leader in his own right.”
He added: “Our demands are clear and do not need to be transmitted in person to the prime minister designate. We do not want to be represented in the government. We want an independent rescue government.”
Mass protests began in Lebanon on Oct. 17 and led to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government resigning two weeks later. Since then the country has been gripped by political deadlock amid a worsening economic and unemployment crisis.
The incoming prime minister faces a number of hurdles, including a boycott by influential political blocs that refused to nominate him because of the backing he received from the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and their allies.
He also faces opposition from the pro-Hariri Sunnis and the protest movement, which views the whole political elite as corrupt.
Activists who met Diab said afterwards that they represented themselves, not the protest movement.
According to one protester, Diab said that he “wants to form a government of a limited number of ministers from independents. If a government would be formed in this way why would we reject it and obstruct its path?”
Riot police intervened to prevent any clash between rival groups of activists following the meeting, while Diab’s office announced that talks with protesters would be suspended.
In Martyrs’ Square, protesters erected a huge Christmas tree, ornamenting it with the demands of the revolution, and chanting: “All means all of them and Diab is one of them.”
A source close to Diab told Arab News that the incoming leader will refrain from issuing media statements or giving interviews in coming weeks and will focus on forming a new government.
In his most recent statement, Diab said that he intends to form a limited government of 20 ministers that will “fight corruption, and boost economic and financial recovery.”
In a Sunday sermon, Bechara Al-Rahi, the Maronite Patriarch, urged all political parties to “cooperate with the prime minister-designate and facilitate the formation of a rescue emergency government.”