Lebanon gets a new government, but will it quell protests? Analysis

Protests have been going on for months with calls to replace the government.

After months of impasse, protest and wrangling, a new government was finally announced in Lebanon, but whether it will quell the unrest remains an open question.

The new prime minister, Hassan Diab, announced late Tuesday night, is a former professor and was a vice president at the prestigious American University of Beirut. His cabinet appears to be composed of specialists but allied to the several of the many different political and religious interests who've dominated Lebanese politics for the three decades since the end of the civil war.

We will have to wait to see how far the new faces go towards meeting the increasingly vociferous demands of the thousands who've been on the streets calling for wholesale democratic change, an end to crony capitalism, nepotism and sectarianism.

The mood outside the Parliament late Tuesday night, however, was unforgiving. Protesters gathered even before the details were made official to denounce the new government as simply more of the same.

They told ABC News how angry people are at the lack of basic services, including the unaffordable cost of health care and education. People have seen pay cuts and lay-offs and are deeply worried by a banking crisis that leaves many depositors unable to access their money above a paltry $200 per week.

There were fairly intense, if localized, clashes in Beirut Wednesday night with stone-throwing protesters in running battles with riot police around the Parliament. Multiple volleys of tear gas were fired by the security forces along with repeated water cannon spray.

However, the mainly young vanguard numbered in the hundreds -- not thousands -- and it remains to be seen how the peaceful majority respond to the new government. How the street and the vanguard who turned to violence a few days ago react will be clearer come the weekend.

Weeks of wrangling finally ended after repeated attempts by Hezbollah to step in and sort out differences between rival parties. Rising street violence and regional uncertainty after the American killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq frayed nerves on all sides, and the lack of a legitimate government was heightening fears of violence between sectarian factions.

Demonstrators were demanding a cabinet made up of technocrats, not the same old cadre of politicians who have been running the country for the past 30 years, and on the surface it seems that's what they got.

However, most of the new cabinet members have ties to Hezbollah, and activists are already calling it the "Halloween Government," saying it's simply a thinly disguised return to the old system of backroom deals and corruption.

Osama Habib, economics editor at Lebanon's The Daily Star, told ABC News he does not want to prejudge the new government, saying, "You don't want to shoot the horse before it starts racing."

He stressed that the key now is for the politicians who appointed the new government to "stop meddling."

"Lebanon's political class is in a dilemma," he said. "They know the public is against them. It is in their interests to take quick action -- they have to; there is no choice."

He added a stern warning: "If they don't take action within two months at the most, then it will be out of control. More riots, more killing, it will turn ugly."

Habib argued that a number of urgent measures are now needed, including reducing interest rates, rescheduling public debt and tackling electricity subsidies that the government cannot afford.

With so much at stake, people appear willing to give the new government a chance to show what it can do, but with the threat of financial collapse still looming, the nation's collective patience will not last long. There will need to be some pretty sweeping reforms in the first few days if the new order hopes to survive.

With Hezbollah clearly the big winner in all of this, it does not bode well for Lebanon's relationships with the West, especially the Unites States, but that's an issue people would likely be more willing to tackle down the road -- just as long as the government can fix the economy, the electricity, the water, the trash crisis and all the other broken public services.