2 November 2019

Quick Take – Protests in Lebanon

Over the past several weeks people in Lebanon have taken to the streets to protest the current political and economic system, resulting in the resignation of the Prime Minister Saad Hariri on October 29th

What is happening?

Political turmoil is rife in Lebanon following nation-wide protests calling for the removal of the political elite. 

The catalyst for the protests was government plans to introduce tax on WhatsApp calls in an effort to shore up the government’s economic position, however the political situation had been fraught for some months. As a result of the announcement of the proposed tax, and months of simmering discontent due to a faltering economy plagued by soaring debt levels and limited growth,  people from across Lebanon’s political and religious spectrum took to the streets to protest, shutting down parts of Lebanon and forcing banks and schools to close across the country. 

This prompted the resignation of the embattled Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who headed an increasingly fragile coalition government. He stepped down for several reasons; notably his inability to quell the crisis stating he had hit a “dead-end” in his efforts to find a resolution. Interestingly, the resignation of the Prime Minister was opposed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah chief, who said that a change in government would push Lebanon into “chaos”. The country’s President Michel Anoun has responded to the chaos by announcing he would transform Lebanon from a sectarian structure based on political allegiances to a civil society led by a government of technocrats. He stated that the country was at a “dangerous crossroads” and has recently ramped up his condemnation of the protests, declaring that “if they keep going, there is a catastrophe”. 

Why is this happening now?

The protests are a culmination of deep-seated discontent with the ruling elite over the current economic situation, poor living standards and the entrenched sectarian system.  

The economy has been under sustained pressure for some months, due to stalling growth and high levels of debt which led the government to implement budget cuts to address the situation. Allegations of corruption have also been levelled at the government, which further fuelled public mistrust. 

What next?

The country is the midst of a power vacuum,  currently without a Prime Minister and facing an imminent economic crisis. 

The president is now expected to launch consultations with the leaders of political blocs in Parliament to discuss the appointment of a potential new Prime Minister. However, the political situation will be difficult to navigate due to Lebanon’s power sharing arrangement which requires the Prime Minister must be Sunni, the speaker of parliament Shia and the president a Maronite Christian. Some protestors have demanded that a government of technocrats be installed but this has so far not been implemented. 

International observers and financial institutions are monitoring the situation closely and the next few weeks look set to be fraught with tension as Lebanon’s leaders grapple with the new status quo. 

For now, the power vacuum continues, however there is speculation that Saad Hariri may return to office, leading a technocratic cabinet. As protests enter their second month, it is unlikely that there will be a swift resolution to Lebanon’s challenges. 

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