Lebanon’s prime minister and cabinet resign amid mass protests over port disaster

Lebanon’s prime minister and cabinet resign amid mass protests over port disaster

Following catastrophic explosions one week ago in the port of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, which subsequently led to mass anti-government protests, Lebanon’s government yielded to public demands and announced its resignation on Monday.

“Today we follow the will of the people in their demand to hold accountable those responsible for the disaster that has been in hiding for seven years, and their desire for real change,” said Prime Minister Hassan Diab in a televised address.

“We are taking a step back to stand with the people, to wage the battle for change with them,” he added.

Protests have erupted in the streets of Beirut, with many accusing the government of negligence and inaction leading to years of deep economic crisis and ultimately the deadly explosions that resulted in at least 178 deaths and the injury of many thousands more.

Angry demonstrators are convinced that nothing short of an overhaul of the political system will fix the long-standing economic crisis.

Either we do this or we leave this countryKrystel El Khoury, student protester

“I have nothing to lose,” said 24-year-old protester Krystel El Khoury. “I just graduated. I’m an architect. I’m unemployed and I don’t have hope. Either we do this or we leave this country.”

Investigations have found the cause of the massive blasts to be an unsupervised cache of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that was improperly stored at the port for six years. Public records have since been released that show the government was issued multiple warnings over the dangers this presented but failed to take preemptive action.

Mr. Diab, who was appointed prime minister in January after the ousting of his predecessor over corruption allegations, said that the efforts of his cabinet to correct Lebanon’s troubles were thwarted by his political foes and chronic problems of corruption that were “bigger than the state.”

“A very thick and thorny wall separates us from change; a wall fortified by a class that is resorting to all dirty methods in order to resist and preserve its gains,” he said.

“They knew that we pose a threat to them, and that the success of this government means a real change in this long-ruling class whose corruption has asphyxiated the country … They are the true tragedy of the Lebanese people.”

Before Diab’s announcement on Monday, three of his 20 cabinet members had resigned independently, as well as at least seven members of the 128 members of Parliament.

Diab will continue to serve in a caretaker capacity as President Michel Aoun holds consultations with the political parties represented in Parliament to select new members of the cabinet.

This process is expected to take several months, which could prevent the government from pursuing significant restorative initiatives in the meantime. While Diab’s role has been reduced to caretaker prime minister, it is unclear who will take charge of recovery measures such as negotiating aid packages and kick-start efforts to rebuild.

Protesters want more action

Still, some protesters are unsatisfied with the resignation of Diab and his cabinet, and continue to demand the ousting of the country’s political elite.

“The government resignation is not enough,” said one protester. “We have to bring down the president and the speaker of Parliament. It’s a matter of days, and we’ll do it.”

However, some analysts have also expressed that without an effective transitional administration, it is unlikely the government resignations will bring about the social and political reforms Lebanon needs.

“This clientelistic and sectarian system breeds corruption and incompetence,” said Sami Atallah, director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.

Sami also believes that Lebanon’s existing militant-backed authorities were “trying to throw the blame on this government and let it take the fall … so they distract the blame from them or their cronies.”

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