Monday August 10th saw the Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announce not only his, but his entire cabinet’s resignation after anti-government protests intensified over the weekend. Diab’s resignation has put the Lebanese government, and its President Michael Aoun, in an even more precarious position when it comes to dealing with their populous.
Lebanese protestors—who have been fighting against government corruption since October 2019—were incensed as the news that the cause of the catastrophic explosion at the Beirut port was rooted in government negligence came to light.
In his resignation announcement, former Prime Minister Diab asserted that the explosion, which he referred to as “the crime”, was due to persistent corruption in Lebanon that is “bigger than the state.” He explained that his resignation was him taking “”a step back [to] fight the battle for change alongside [the people].”
Diab was expected to resign, especially due to the wave of resignations throughout his cabinet, although he reportedly appeared hesitant and offered to stay in power to facilitate a transition in government.
Deep-seated Discontent lead to Potential Change
Diab’s comments in his resignation speech echoed the sentiment shared by the Lebanese protestors. Anti-government protestors believe that the country’s current political system lends itself to corruption and mismanagement due to its structure.
The structure of the Lebanese government is unique due to its sectarian organization. There has been significant political unrest in Lebanon since its civil war in 1990 and the Lebanese are growing tired of the turnover and perceived ineptitude. The Diab government was only in power since January 2020, replacing Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who had stepped down due to protests in his second term in office only after regaining office because his first term was cut short due to a similar collapse.
The deep-seated discontent among the Lebanese boiled over in the form of nationwide protests after the ammonium nitrate explosion at the port which has left approximately 200 dead, 6,000 wounded and 300,000 homeless.
The protests were marked by excessive force at the hands of unmarked, plain-clothed government officers and soldiers, a violation of international standards of force that mirror the actions of federal agents in Portland, Oregon. However, the anti-government protests succeeded in instigating the opportunity for significant change in the Lebanon political sphere in spite of the violent nature of the clashes which left 728 wounded and one police officer dead.
American University of Beirut Professor, Rami Khoury, said that the recent protests and resignations are the beginning of “a historic turning point in the modern political governance of Lebanon.” While this is an exciting prospect, Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith offers a cautious perspective, making note that the electoral system in Lebanon was designed “to protect the political elite in the country.”
“To change that system, those political elites have to agree to it,” he continued, “even an explosion as catastrophic as Tuesday’s might not be enough to get those elites easily give up their grip on power … That’s why international pressure, people believe, is necessary.”