Protests lead to Hariri’s resignation, political uncertainty

Although the demonstrations have been peaceful, supporters of the two Shia parties, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, attacked protesters, chanting slogans hailing their leaders.
Sunday 03/11/2019
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri leaves after delivering his address in Beirut, October 29. (Reuters)
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri leaves after delivering his address in Beirut, October 29. (Reuters)

BEIRUT - Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has submitted his government’s resignation, bowing to nearly two weeks of nationwide protests that decried corruption, mismanagement and sectarianism. He said efforts to reshuffle the cabinet had reached a dead end and that it had become necessary to create a great shock to fix the crisis.

Forming a government in Lebanon typically takes months. Rival political leaders often bicker for weeks before agreeing on a government lineup, a scenario the country can ill afford.

Hours before Hariri’s announcement October 29, supporters of the two Shia parties, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, attacked protesters, chanting slogans hailing their respective leaders, Hassan Nasrallah and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

“They destroyed the tents, burned a power generator and stole everything in the tents, while the security forces watched without intervening to stop them,” said Marie Rose Rahmeh, an activist with Lihaqqi (For My Right) movement who was in the square at the time of the raid.

“The place looked like a war zone but, soon after they left, people started flocking to Martyrs’ Square to help clear the mess and put up the tents again. You would think that they would be scared but, on the contrary, it was a beautiful show of solidarity and determination to keep up the revolt,” Rahmeh added.

The protests had been relatively incident-free, despite tensions with the armed forces and attempts by party loyalists to stage counterdemonstrations.

The political crisis has continued to unfold even though banks reopened November 1.

Reacting to Hariri’s offer of resignation, Nasrallah expressed concern that the formation of the new government might take too long. However, he seemed to de-escalate his rhetoric in which he accused protesters of being part of a foreign conspiracy.

“The first thing that the new government should do is to listen to what the people want,” he said, adding that the next government should “build confidence with the people because this confidence is missing.”

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, has not begun consultations towards forming a new government but he seemed to support a government of technocrats, as demanded by protesters.

The new tacks by Nasrallah and Aoun seemed to signal a less confrontational approach.

“There is a direction that says we are going to present ourselves as listening to popular demands,” said Nadim Houry, executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative.

Lebanon’s unprecedented protest movement resounded in the region and abroad due to its unconventional methods. Public squares were used as spaces for free expression, debate and exchange among people of various backgrounds, sects and education.

In Martyrs’ Square, a protest hub in central Beirut, activists organised daily debates covering an array of social, economic and political topics attracting participants from all age groups and confessions. Topics of discussion ranged from ways to combat corruption and change the sectarian-based political system to ensuring social security and implementing economic and financial measures to overcome the crisis. Lihaqqi has been organising debates since the early days of the protests, which started October 17.

Another innovation of the protests is storytelling to children accompanying their parents to the demonstrations. Organisers said the initiative is meant to instil the concept of citizenship at a young age and teach children that they can play an effective role in society.

The protesters’ slogans were often satirical and humorous, providing comic relief to the crowds while offering a poignant critique of politicians. The spirit of the protests is perhaps best captured by the placard reading: “The happiest depressed people one can ever meet”.

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