Lebanon’s Government Resigns in the Wake of Last Week’s Deadly Blast
The Lebanese government has succumbed to the pressure of the people: Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet resigned on Monday. Protesters in the streets of Beirut are demanding further far-reaching reforms.
Diab’s Lack of Self-Awareness
The Lebanese government resigned on Monday in the aftermath of last week’s devastating explosion and the subsequent mass protests in the capital, Beirut. In a televised address, Diab blamed the widespread corruption in his country for the massive detonation and said that corruption was bigger in the country than the state of Lebanon itself.
The political class was the real tragedy of the Lebanese people. They had fought against the new government with all means to prevent changes, Diab said – and thus he excluded any personal responsibility. According to Diab’s victim narrative, his government had “endured a lot of false accusations”, that left him no choice but to “take a step back” in order to comply with the Lebanese desire for a “state of law, justice and transparency”.
Violence Continues to Spread
During his speech on Monday evening, clashes between demonstrators and security forces in central Beirut had erupted again, similar to those that occurred over the weekend, when demonstrators tried to enter parliament and fought with the security forces. They blamed the corruption and negligence of the government for the disaster. According to official information, one police officer was killed, and more than 200 people were injured.
Several ministers resigned from their posts afterwards. Most recently, Justice Minister Marie-Claude Nadschm and Finance Minister Ghasi Wasni on Monday. The previous week, during a visit to the site of the disaster, Nadschm had already been verbally attacked by protesters. Prior to Najschm and Wasni, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad and Environment Minister Kattar Demianos had already resigned.
According to government circles, Hassan Diab had desperately tried to keep his cabinet together. He even sought to propose new elections to his cabinet on Monday in order to calm down the precarious situation, even though the next regular election in Lebanon would not have taken place until 2022.
Diab’s government has only been in office since January and after months of uncertainty. He succeeded Saad Hariri, who resigned after mass protests at the end of October, which were primarily due to tax levies.
Hezbollah’s Role and the Status Quo
Diab’s government was supported, inter alia, by Hezbollah, which is loyal to Iran and remains highly influential and powerful in Lebanon. Due to a severe economic crisis and the corona pandemic, large parts of the Lebanese population slipped into poverty during his tenure.
The leading political blocs in parliament must now agree on a successor. It is unclear how long this will take. Hezbollah plays a central role. Hardly any government can be formed against the organisation, which is considered a terrorist group by many foreign states. However, it is questionable whether a mere substitution of personnel can be sufficient to calm the situation, as the demonstrators are demanding far-reaching political reforms.
The International Community Gets Involved
Corresponding demands can also be heard from abroad. The International Monetary Fund seeks to help Lebanon with a rescue package but is demanding political agreement on comprehensive reforms. UN Secretary-General António Guterres also called for political changes. At the same time, he promised long-term support, saying “the United Nations system will continue to help Lebanon in this emergency in every possible way.”
The disaster on August 4, killed around 160 people and injured almost 6,000 in the port of Beirut. Large parts of the Lebanese capital have been devastated. The cause of the disaster is reportedly a fire that detonated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. The cargo with the extremely flammable chemical had been stored in a hall at the port for years. Investigations are still underway, however.