Hariri resigns, Hezbollah attack protestors

What happened: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri offered his resignation yesterday, saying that he had reached a “dead end” trying to deal with the protestors’ demands to deal with corruption and the stagnant economy.

  • Hariri said: “For 13 days the Lebanese people have waited for a decision for a political solution that stops the deterioration [of the economy]. And I have tried, during this period, to find a way out, through which to listen to the voice of the people. It is time for us to have a big shock to face the crisis. To all partners in political life, our responsibility today is how we protect Lebanon and revive its economy.”
  • Following the resignation, protestors returned to the demonstrations and roadblocks and chanted: “All of them means all of them,” capturing their criticism at the entire political establishment and all factions in the Government.
  • Men dressed in black and loyal to Hezbollah and another Shia movement, Amal, attacked a peaceful protest site in downtown Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square, setting fire to tents and beating demonstrators. Security forces dispersed attackers with rubber bullets and smoke grenades. Last week, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the protests were funded by foreign powers, claiming that “someone is trying to pull the country towards civil war”.
  • Protests in Iraq also turned violent yesterday as 18 people were reportedly killed in the southern city of Karbala, after masked gunmen opened fire at an anti-government demonstration. Naseef al-Khitaby, Karbala’s governor, dismissed the reports as “false news”. Iraqis took to the streets across the country for a fifth consecutive day to protest against official corruption, mass unemployment and failing public services.

Context: Protests in Lebanon were ignited when the government announced a tax of $6 a month on Internet voice-call services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. However, months before the protests Lebanon was already suffering an economic crisis.

  • Its economy grew just 0.2% in 2018, and its public-debt burden is the third highest in the world as a per cent of GDP. Unemployment stands at close to 25 per cent, and tens of thousands of educated young people leave the country each year due to a lack of opportunity.
  • Banks, schools and some offices have been closed in Beirut ever since as protesters have seized and blocked major roads, defying attempts by the Lebanese Army to reopen them.
  • The country is also suffering from a shortage of US dollars, electricity and water shortfalls, exacerbated by an influx of 1.5m Syrian refugees.
  • Protesters are also calling for an end to corruption and the country’s sectarian system of governance, in place since the end of a civil war in 1990, which divides the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament among Christian, Sunni and Shiite Muslim leaders.

Looking ahead: With no clear alternative to the current leadership and the economy veering toward collapse, Hariri’s resignation catapulted Lebanon only further into political uncertainty. A new round of political deadlock will likely commence as the country seeks to form a new government.

  • In the meantime, Hariri and his cabinet will continue to serve in a caretaker government. Without the ability to pass major legislation, it will be even less equipped than before to resolve the economic crisis and provide security for the protestors.