What does one do when the government fails to take into account the plight of its citizens? Stay silent or protest and wait for things to change on their own? That’s exactly what the Lebanese have had to go through in their fight against the corrupt government. For months, Lebanese protesters have taken to streets across the country to ask the ruling elite to step down and install a government which will safeguard the rights of citizens. Protesting across the country didn’t come without a cost either.
Understanding Lebanon’s Unrest
The dynamics of Lebanon are key in understanding this complicated affair. The problems have grown dramatically over the years. The protests which started at the end of 2019 stemmed primarily from the inefficiency of the government. Widespread corruption, overlooking the smallest of problems and paying no heed to satisfying the demands of citizens. It was widely perceived as time to rise and fight for rights that had long been denied.
Lebanon’s “October Revolution” began when a group of protesters gathered in capital Beirut’s Riad al-Solh square. What authorities didn’t know was the fact that this group would multiply into thousands and spread across the country. The protests started on October 17 and by October 29 Prime Minister Saad Hariri was ousted from office. One stark difference in these protests was the fact that regardless of gender or sect, the Lebanese remained united. Christians hand in hand with Muslim Shiites and Sunnis. There were no sectarian or religious differences as the protesters all wanted to fight against a power which for years had mercilessly run the Mediterranean country.
Why Did Protests Start?
The protests began after the government decided to impose a regressive tax on the messaging application WhatsApp. This came at a time when a currency crisis was looming and the ability to use regular mobile service was increasingly becoming difficult due to expensive charges implemented by the government. The tax on WhatsApp was the final nail in the coffin which spurred a renewed determination to take down the government. It may be hard to believe, but a messaging application was at the center of these protests. However, the anger had been on the rise for years. Lebanon is a country where for the past 4 to 5 years, the government has been unable to provide basic utilities like water and electricity. The country also faces hours of load shedding on a daily basis. The currency along with the banking sector has collapsed and a financial crisis is now underway.
Lebanon Today: Can Hassan Diab Turn Things Around?
Fast-forward to present-day Lebanon: Hassan Diab is at the helm of a new government. Diab is a technocrat and an academic. The country’s drastic religious differences have always played a role in politics, with Hezbollah involved. The new government under Diab is one which might not be well-acquainted with politics considering the Prime Minister’s lack of political experience. However, the point Diab is making points towards having less cabinet members and Lebanon’s cabinet has now dropped from 30 to 20.
Furthermore, in this new government, we can also see the appointment of the country’s first female deputy Prime Minister and the Arab world’s first Defense Minister in Zeina Adra. Diab calls his style “technocratic” which could well point towards change in a country where we can see six women in the cabinet—again a historical first for Lebanon. The reason as to why I believe this government could bring significant changes for the country is due to the fact that cabinet members are mostly economists, medical experts and academics. This was a key demand of protesters who said they wanted people who wouldn’t be affiliated with patriarchal, well-established political parties which forced them to suffer severe financial, economic and social strains.
Diab Is Open To Dialog
Hassan Diab has also opened a dialog with the main political parties such as the Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Christian Lebanese Force. The reason why many ordinary Lebanese people believe that Diab is a good choice is because he has outlined his government’s plans in accordance with the demands of the popular protests. Key points on his agenda in accordance with their demands include combating corruption which has brought Lebanon immense financial strain, the creation of an independent judiciary where legal cases take less time to be resolved and unemployment. Other actions Diab has intended to take include the improvement of the electoral law and the recovery of public funds which the previous governments used to satisfy their personal interests.
When we turn our attention to the European Union and its efforts for Lebanon, we can see that it still has a huge role to play. Firstly, the European Union should prioritize the situation of Syrian refugees living in the country. One can only imagine the hardship they have to suffer as normal citizens take to streets to protest. They are the ones that are being hit the hardest. Shelter, food and basic human rights should be granted to them as soon as possible. The European Union should immediately lend help to those in need through additional finances and resources. The Lebanese government is already bearing the brunt of a collapsed financial system and it may not be able to provide what refugees need. The European Union could be of critical importance in this aspect.
Secondly, the European Union should move forward in mending relations between the divided political parties who have different agendas in Lebanon. It should continuously monitor the situation and mediate between parties so that everyone is on the same page. Thirdly, the EU should present a framework which would not only make the activities of the new government more transparent and will also allow the development of change in the aftermath of recovering from a corrupt system of governance. At this point in time, I believe that immediate action would also help alleviate ongoing problems which would directly impact the bloc itself.
The European Union should also help Lebanon on the economic front. Economic development is the need of the hour. Healthcare supplies have also dwindled due to the poor healthcare infrastructure. Sanitation and waste management stands at its worst and the country’s overall ailing infrastructure also needs to be modernized in order to bring the peace and growth that it requires. The European Union as a body which highlights the necessity of humanitarian and economic reforms should take these steps swiftly in order to help the Diab government achieve the dream of restoring Lebanon to its former glory.