Arab World's First Female Minister in Charge of Security Takes Office

Raya El Hassan is one of four women in the new 30-member government, named after nearly nine months of deadlock

Newly-appointed Interior Minister Raya El Hassan at the Interior Ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, February 6, 2019.
Hassan Ammar,AP

Lebanon's new interior minister has taken office, becoming the country's and the Arab world's first female official in charge of powerful security agencies.

Raya El Hassan took over on Wednesday as a part of a new government named after nearly nine months of deadlock that had deepened Lebanon’s economic woes. She is one of four women in the 30-member Cabinet, a historic record for female political representation in Lebanon.

El Hassan says she is "assuming the challenge" of the ministry in charge of implementing the law and serving citizens. She will be in charge of multiple, often competing security agencies, and of maintaining stability where until recently the country has grappled with militant groups and limited spillover from the war next door in Syria.

El Hassan in 2009 also became the region's first female finance minister.

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The new Cabinet held its first meeting Saturday and the country’s leaders vowed to deal swiftly with the political and economic challenges the country faces, while playing down the militant Hezbollah group’s takeover of the health ministry.

The new Cabinet was announced Thursday night. “There are many challenges ahead of us that we have to face,” President Michel Aoun was quoted as telling ministers in a comment on his Twitter account. “There is no time to waste.”

In its first meeting, the Cabinet formed a 10-member committee whose job will be to draft a government policy statement to be debated in Parliament ahead of a vote of confidence.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the government policy statement would be ready within days, adding that it will be similar to that of the previous government he headed.

The new Cabinet was agreed on as Lebanon is dealing with soaring public debt of $84 billion, or 150 percent of the gross domestic product, and unemployment believed to be around 36 percent.