Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has announced the resignation of his government yesterday on Tuesday. Saad Hariri’s express and somber televised address was met by cheers from crowds of protesters who have remained mobilized since October 17, crippling the country to press their demands.
A nationwide cross-sectarian protest movement gripped Lebanon for almost two weeks, prior to resignation of Saad Hariri on Tuesday, calling for an overhaul of a political class viewed as incompetent and corrupt. Banks and schools have remained closed and the normally congested main arteries in Beirut blocked by protesters. The unprecedented protest movement had been relatively incident-free, despite tensions with the armed forces and attempts by party loyalists to stage counter-demonstrations.
Lebanon’s political leaders have appeared shell-shocked, trying simultaneously to express sympathy for the largely peaceful protest movement while warning of turmoil in the case of a power vacuum. Nasrallah had warned of chaos if the government resigned but had also urged his supporters to refrain from staging counter-demonstrations. The Iran-backed Hezbollah is the only movement not to have disarmed after Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.
Sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on calls made through messaging apps, the protests morphed into a cross-sectarian unprecedented street mobilization to remove Lebanon’s entire political leadership which is seen by protestors as corrupt and broken. Last week on Thursday morning, demonstrators set up roadblocks around the capital. Embattled Prime Minister Saad Hariri presented a package of reforms that aimed to revive an economy that has been on the brink of collapse for months, that also included cutting ministerial salaries, but the rallies continued, and the protestors stuck to their demands for deep, systemic change, crippling Beirut and other major cities.
Washington on Wednesday called on Lebanon’s leaders to meet the “legitimate” grievances of citizens. More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank. Almost three decades after the end of Lebanon’s civil war, political deadlock has stymied efforts to tackle mounting economic woes which have been compounded by the eight-year civil war in neighboring Syria.
Last year in May, Lebanon held its first parliamentary polls in nine years after the deeply divided legislature repeatedly extended its own term. But the vote failed to shake up the multi-confessional country’s entrenched ruling class. It saw veteran parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri elected to a sixth consecutive term. The president renamed Hariri as premier, but he then struggled for more than eight months to form a coalition government.
Meanwhile almost at the same time, Russia’s diplomacy has prevailed and Turkey is establishing safe-zone in Syria, US is building up its military presence in Saudi against Iran, Saudi and Iran are sitting across each other for dialogue through back door channels, Yemen is still burning and thousands of people are on streets in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq initially demanding employment and better services only to later evolve into a chaotic movement demanding resignation of the government. More than 300 people have already been killed and over 7000 injured, crippling the country once again.