Lebanon - Protests 2019
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed the United States and its allies for spreading "insecurity and turmoil" in Iraq and Lebanon, urging anti-government protesters in both countries to seek changes in a lawful way. "Their people also have to know that although they have legitimate demands, those demands can be met only through the framework of legal structures," he said on 30 October 2019 in rare remarks addressing the wave of demonstrations that erupted in Iraq and Lebanon earlier in the month. Khamenei accused "America and Western intelligence services" of inflicting damage and of creating "chaos" in the region. "They are destroying security. This is the worst kind of hostility and the most dangerous and spiteful behaviour against a country," he said.
The Lebanese people rebelled against the warlord-oligarch class that had dominated Lebanese politics for three decades since the end of the country's civil war. They chanted "all of them means all of them" to demand the resignation of the entire sectarian political class and to demand dignified lives. Sectarianism was actively challenged in the streets.
The tipping point in Lebanon was the government’s response to a severe economic crisis. Facing a domino effect of capital flight, dangerous levels of government debt and an imminent currency devaluation, the government’s solution was to introduce a budget which taxed the poor through popular goods and services such as WhatsApp and cigarettes. In the Shia suburbs of south Beirut, across the Sunni north and in the Druze and Maronite heartlands, a revolt quickly gathered steam. Lebanese officials, including Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, initially appeared supportive of the demands, despite their calls for the government to resign. But soon supporters of the Iranian-linked party and the other main Shia party Amal were taking to the streets denouncing the protests while waving the flags of both parties. Despite this show of force, Shia citizens appear to be challenging the authority of traditional leaders Nasrallah and Amal head Nabih Berri.
Protesters in Lebanon blocked roads with burning tires and marched in Beirut for a second day on 18 October 2019 in demonstrations targeting the government over the country's economic crisis. In Lebanon's biggest protest in years, thousands gathered outside the government headquarters in central Beirut on Thursday evening, forcing the cabinet to backtrack on plans to raise a new tax on WhatsApp voice calls. Tear gas was fired as some demonstrators and police clashed in the early hours of Friday morning. In Beirut, several thousands of people marched near the government's Serail headquarters chanting "the people want the downfall of the regime".
In a country fractured along sectarian lines, the unusually wide geographic reach of these protests has been seen as a sign of deepening anger with politicians who have jointly led Lebanon into crisis. The government, which includes nearly all of Lebanon's main parties, is struggling to implement long-delayed reforms that are seen as more vital than ever to begin resolving the crisis. The Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar described it as "a tax intifada", or uprising, across Lebanon. Another daily, al-Akhbar, declared it "the WhatsApp revolution" that had shaken Prime Minister Hariri's unity government.
Chanting "Revolution, revolution" and "The people demand the fall of the regime", hundreds of thousands of people have rallied in cities across Lebanon, calling on the country's ruling elite resign over a dire economic crisis. The protests – bringing together people from across sectarian and political divides – are the largest Lebanon had seen in years.
Protesters in Lebanon insisted on 22 Octobe 2019 they would stay in the streets for a sixth day even after the government approved an unprecedented package of economic reforms. The protesters declared a general strike, sending a clear signal they rejected the measures Prime Minister Saad Hariri's government agreed upon a day earlier. Among the reforms was a 50-percent reduction in salary for former and current politicians and ministers; the abolition of the Ministry of Information and a number of other state institutions; and the establishment of an anti-corruption panel.
Those on the streets are now demanding an end to Lebanon's sectarian form of government, which they say have entrenched leaders of the country's various Christian and Muslim factions, fueled networks of patronage and clientelism and stymied development. Such impasses included Lebanon's inability to elect a president between May 2014 and October 2016 when the Lebanese parliament failed to name a head of state despite 45 attempts. The political deadlock has resulted in severe government dysfunction, with the state unable to provide basic services, such as electricity and water, around the clock.
Protesters poured back onto streets and squares across Lebanon on 26 October 2019, despite army efforts to unblock roads, with no end in sight to a crisis that has crippled the country for 10 days and kept banks closed. Army and security commanders met to plan ways to re-open main arteries to get traffic flowing again while “safeguarding the safety of protesters”, the military said in a statement. But people have closed routes with barriers, sit-ins and mass gatherings demanding the government resign. Lebanon has been swept by 10 days of protests against a political class accused of corruption, mismanagement of state finances and pushing the country towards an economic collapse unseen since the 1975-90 civil war. Banks, schools, and many businesses shut their doors.
The protests continued to grip Lebanon despite the government announcing an emergency reform package this week that failed to defuse anger. It has also yet to reassure foreign donors to unlock the billions in badly needed aid they have pledged. Lebanon has one of the world’s highest levels of government debt as a share of economic output. The size and geographic reach of the protests have been extraordinary in a country where political movements have long been divided along sectarian lines and struggle to draw nationwide appeal.
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri said 29 October 2019 he will submit his resignation to President Michel Aoun, satisfying one of the main demands of the country's protest movement. The announcement came on the back of 13 days of mass anti-government protests demanding the departure of the country's entire political elite amid growing anger over official corruption, poor public services and years of economic mismanagement. "We have reached a deadlock and we need a shock in order to brave through the crisis," Hariri said in a televised statement from the capital, Beirut. "I'm heading to the presidential palace to tender the resignation of the government ... This is in response to the will and demand of the thousands of Lebanese demanding change," he added. Defying pleas from the country's top politicians, protesters sought to keep Lebanon on lockdown by cutting off access to some of the main thoroughfares, including the main north-south highway. By resigning without any agreement in place, Hariri defied Aoun and Hezbollah, which had flat-out opposed any change in government.
Lebanese demonstrators began surrounding government institutions in the capital, Beirut, and other cities on 06 November 2019, as a mass protest movement demanding an overhaul of the country's political system approaches its fourth week. The move on Wednesday suggests a shift in the focus of protesters from blocking roads and setting up barricades to holding sit-ins at state-affiliated sites as they seek to maintain pressure on the political establishment until their demands for the departure of the ruling elite and an end to chronic economic mismanagement and corruption are met.
Protesters in Lebanon took to the streets on 15 November 2019, shouting "Thief", as local media reports said business tycoon and former Tripoli Member of Parliament Mohammad Safadi will be nominated as the country's next prime minister. After two weeks of closed-door consultations following the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri on October 29, the decision was reached at a meeting between Hariri and representatives of the major Shia parties, Hezbollah and Amal. The nomination of Safadi, a Saudi-aligned Sunni billionaire, to replace Hariri, another Saudi-aligned Sunni billionaire, has struck many as tone-deaf in the backdrop of protests against the Lebanese elites.
"After everything the protesters have been demanding, it is pretty absurd that they ended up picking someone who is as close to the status quo as possible," said political analyst Nadim El Kaak. "I think it is reflective of the bubble they have been living in." Safadi withdrew his candidacy to be prime minister of the next Lebanese government, broadcasters LBCI and al-Jadeed reported on 16 November 2019.
Lebanon President Michel Aoun designated Hezbollah-backed Hassan Diab, an academic and former education minister, as the country's next prime minister on 19 December 2019, breaking a weeks-long impasse. Diab, who has the support of Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies, was named after one day of formal consultations with lawmakers that require Aoun to designate the candidate with the most support among the Lebanon's 128 MPs. In fact, 69 lawmakers, including the parliamentary bloc of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal movements, as well as lawmakers affiliated with Aoun, gave him their votes. Diab, 60, faces the daunting task of forming a government to tackle the country's worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
Diab may have the distinct misfortune of presiding over the final political, economic and social collapse of Lebanon. While he would be able to find a majority in parliament that can help him shepherd a limited reform program - the same majority that helped him get the post - he may not be able to mollify the Lebanese public which sees no hope in the current political system. Simultaneously, his association with Hezbollah is unlikely to raise the regional and international communities' interest in helping his government undertake the radical economic program the country needed to correct its path forward.
Beirut was been plunged into chaos amid massive protests 18 January 2020. Police struggled to contain the angry crowds with tear gas and water cannon, prompting President Michel Aoun to ask the military to intervene. Aoun asked the national army to restore peace and order on the streets of Beirut, as the city saw fierce clashes between protesters and security forces. Aoun called on the military to “protect the safety of peaceful protesters and of public and private property.” The public unrest is also fueled by an almost three-months-long power vacuum and by a crippling economic crisis. The protesters pelted police with stones and firecrackers. Others removed street signs and metal barriers, and hurled them at officers. Police responded with water cannons. Clouds of tear gas also soon filled the streets in the city center, scene of some of the most intense standoffs between the demonstrators and the law enforcement.
Protets in April 2020 were the continuation of a spontaneous protest drive which started on October 17 when a few people converged at Beirut’s Riad al Solh Square to record protest against a proposed tax on WhatsApp, the popular messaging service. Lebanese people, frustrated over rising prices, falling income and an erosion of their savings with its pound currency losing value, poured out on the streets in thousands. Later that month, Prime Minister Saad Hariri had to step down. In the ongoing protests in Lebanon, people have focused their anger on one particular target: banks. At least a dozen branches of different banks been firebombed since protests broke out anew in April 2020. Anger has centred on political corruption and a system that rewards sectarian loyalty instead of competence during elections and government’s failure in providing essential services such as electricity.
Protesters stormed government buildings in Beirut 08 August 2020 as tens of thousands of people rallied against Lebanon's ruling class amid growing anger over a deadly explosion at the capital's port. Tense clashes erupted with police after the demonstrators attempted to reach Lebanon's parliament building. Police used large amounts of tear gas and rubber bullets and fired live ammunition in the air to disperse the crowds. Police said one officer died during the clashes, while more than 100 protesters were wounded, according to the Red Cross. Later on Saturday, army and protesters clashed by Beirut's main ring road near the city center. Soldiers used sticks to beat protesters who responded by throwing rocks at them.
The demonstrators in Martyrs' Square erected gallows and hung up cardboard cutouts of Lebanon's political class, which they blame for the enormous explosion that ripped through Beirut on Tuesday, killing more than 150 people, wounding 6,000 and leaving some 250,000 people without homes. In unison, the protesters chanted slogans against President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, among others. In an address to the nation late on 08 August 2020, Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose cabinet won a vote of confidence in parliament in February after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's government was forced to resign in the face of the mass anti-establishment protests, said he would introduce a draft bill to hold an early election.
But early elections with the current electoral law will produce nothing new. A new electoral law is needed first, one that is non-sectarian and that includes all of Lebanon under one district. Anything other than that is just digging further in more political deadlock.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his government's resignation 10 August 2020 following a cabinet meeting in which all the lawmakers reportedly tendered their resignations over the devastating explosion in the capital. President Michel Aoun accepted the resignation of the government and asked it to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet is formed. Diab had offered to propose early parliamentary elections said he was prepared to stay in the post for two months to allow time for politicians to work on structural reforms.
Since the resignation, there has been a flurry of closed-door meetings and political haggling to form a government that meets the approval of domestic and international powers. Lebanon's complicated sectarian-based political system requires the prime minister to be chosen from among Sunni Muslims. It wasn't clear if there would be a national unity government — which would mean the participation of all political parties — or an emergency transition government.
The post of prime minister must go to a Sunni Muslim in the Lebanese sectarian system. Saad al-Hariri was the only serious name floated for the post to replace Hassan Diab, who continues in a caretaker capacity until a new government is agreed. But Hariri said he was not a candidate after several major parties said they did not support his return to the job. The Iran-backed Shi'ite Hezbollah and its Shi'ite ally the Amal Movement want Hariri to be prime minister again. But Hezbollah's main Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement founded by Aoun, opposes his candidacy. Groups at the other end of the spectrum, notably the Christian Lebanese Forces Party and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, also do not support Hariri's return to the job.
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib on 31 August 2020 called for the formation of a new government in record time and the immediate implementation of reforms as an entry point for an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Adib, a relatively unknown 48-year-old former ambassador to Germany and close aide to former prime minister Najib Mikati, had received backing from the country's Sunni Muslim political heavyweights, including the Future Movement party headed by former premier Saad Hariri.
Hassan Diab ghad been chosen by the two main parliamentary blocs, who are the Hezbollah-Amal Shia alliance and the FPM [Free Patriot Movement], the Christian party that President Aoun comes from. This time, previous Sunni prime ministers came out and said they have chosen Adib, in addition to the Shiite bloc, so at least he has a more united bloc on both sides of parliament who support him.
Lebanon's premier-designate Mustapha Adib stepped down on 26 September 2020, saying he had been unable to form a reform-minded government. The announcement by Mustapha Adib nearly a month after he was appointed to the job came following a meeting with President Michel Aoun, after which he told reporters he was stepping down. Efforts by the French-supported Adib hit multiple snags after the country’s main Shiite groups, Hezbollah and Amal, insisted on retaining hold of the key Finance Ministry. Their insistence emerged after the US administration slapped sanctions on two senior politicians close to Hezbollah, including the ex-finance minister. The two groups also insisted on naming the Shiite ministers in the new Cabinet and objected to the manner in which Adib was forming the government, without consulting with them.
French President Emmanuel Macron on 27 September 2020 accused Lebanon's leaders of betraying their promises over their failure to form a government in the wake of the Beirut port blast. He gave the country's political class four to six weeks to implement his roadmap but ruled out immediate sanctions. At a rare news conference devoted to Lebanon, Macron said the political elite had decided "to betray" their obligations and had committed "collective treason" by failing to form a government. "They have decided to betray this commitment (to form a government)," Macron told reporters, declaring he was "ashamed" of the country's leaders. "I see that the Lebanese authorities and political forces chose to favour their partisan and individual interests to the detriment of the general interest of the the country," he added.
He sent a pointed warning to the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah, which was well represented in the outgoing government and some analysts accuse of holding up the process. Hezbollah should "not think it is more powerful than it is.... It must show that it respects all the Lebanese. And in recent days, it has clearly shown the opposite," said Macron.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|