The post-Hariri resignation stage: Paving the way to assign a replacement

Police remove stones used by protesters to block a main road in Beirut. (AP)
Updated 31 October 2019

The post-Hariri resignation stage: Paving the way to assign a replacement

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced the resignation of his government in a move that suggested there is no winner in Lebanon. Neither have the two-week protests fulfilled all their demands nor has Hariri succumbed to some of the powers’ rejection to bring about any government change.

At two in the afternoon on Wednesday was the deadline set by the Lebanese army command for the protesters to reopen all the roads they have blocked across Lebanon. This demand aimed to “reconnect all regions in accordance with the law and public order.” The army command stressed “the right to protest in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and under the protection of the law in public squares only.”

It was not easy to convince the protesters, who were adamant to continue to escalate, to leave the streets despite that their first demand, which is the resignation of the government, has been fulfilled.

There have been many debates between those who refused to leave the streets and those who are convinced that the squares should suffice in the next stage. Frustrated protesters have expressed outrage by accusing unnamed parties of having attempted to thwart the movement. Their high-pitched yelling expressed their disappointment, but everyone complied with the army command and left the streets.

Free Patriotic Movement ministers and MPs said in a statement that they were shocked by Hariri’s decision to resign and that he had not coordinated with President Michel Aoun.

The pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper said that Hariri succumbed to external pressure and participated in the coup against the Covenant in light of the foggy events in the streets.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah had said last Saturday: “We do not accept overthrowing the Covenant, we do not support the resignation of the government, and we do not accept early parliamentary elections because this is a complicated issue.”

On the fourteenth day of the protests, Lebanon entered the stage of the constitutional steps that follow the resignation, intensifying communication to restore the political situation. In the presidential palace, off-the-record active communication between President Aoun and his political allies took place to formulate a vision for the next political phase. The General Directorate of the Presidency issued a communiqué declaring that President Aoun has accepted Hariri’s resignation and demands that the government continues to operate normally until a new government is formed. The communiqué did not specify the dates for parliamentary consultations to appoint a new prime minister to form a government.

The Association of Banks announced a tacit agreement to commence operation starting Thursday, but the banks’ doors will remain closed to customers until a decision on this subject is taken in the coming days.

Walid Fakhreddine, political expert and civil movement activist, told Arab News: “The street is still intense as people have fulfilled their first demand to bring down the government, but we await the next stage. If no date is announced for the start of the parliamentary consultation to assign a new prime minister, we shall be ready. PM Hariri took responsibility and the ball is now in the court of the political powers.”

He added: “The street has won so far, and the victorious party shall be determined through the political considerations in the formation of the next government. We shall watch and see if the politicians understand the street’s demands and how they will seek to please it. The squares are available and have not been closed, and blocking roads is also accessible.”

“People are exhausted but have not lost faith. It is true that we are now in the stage of catching our breath, but at the same time, we are observing. The key to the solution has been put in place—the government must resign, and if the political forces return to their previous ways for handling the protests, we shall be on the lookout.”

“The people overthrew the government that Hezbollah was preventing from getting overthrown, and this is the first political victory,” former MP Fares Souaid told Arab News.

“Even if some thought they can re-engineer political life and restore it to how it was before the protests, they will not be able to do that because the people who have tested themselves and their abilities will take to the streets again,” he added.

Souaid said: “In revolutions, the final results need time. Lebanon's social media generation resembles that of Iraq, Khartoum and Algeria, and violence cannot be used against them. They have fought for Lebanon’s lifestyle, and their achievements deserve respect and encouragement.”

As part of the foreign reactions to the resignation of the government and the assault on protesters in Beirut, the British embassy stressed Lebanon’s need for “a government capable of urgently implementing vital and necessary reforms to build a better country for everyone.” It also warned that “violence or intimidation by any group during peaceful protests will only contribute to undermining Lebanon’s unity and stability.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres appealed for calm and restraint. He called on all political actors to seek a political solution that preserves the stability of the country and responds to the aspirations of the Lebanese people.

He also called on all actors to avoid violence and respect the rights to peaceful assembly and expression.


‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

Updated 07 August 2020

‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

  • The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion
  • The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest

BEIRUT: Beirut residents began trying to rebuild their shattered lives on Friday after the biggest blast in the Lebanese capital’s history tore into the city, killing at least 154 and leaving the heavily indebted nation with another huge reconstruction bill.
The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion smashed a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.
Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the government and a political elite, who have presided over a nation that was facing economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.
The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.
“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old, sitting in the family home in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred meters from the port warehouses where highly explosive material was stored for years, a ticking time bomb next to a densely populated area.
As Abdou spoke, a domestic water boiler fell through the ceiling of his cracked home, while volunteers from the neighborhood turned out on the street to sweep up debris.
“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.
“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.
The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived.
Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion — a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.
Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.
In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.
The weeping mother of one of the missing called a prime time TV program on Thursday night to plead with the authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found — dead — hours later.
Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh told local radio VDL that three more bodies had been found in the search, while the health minister said on Friday the death toll had climbed to 154. Dozens are still unaccounted for.
Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head from the statue of the Virgin Mary had been blown off.
“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked in the blast. His shin was bandaged.
“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here, the economy is zero?“
Offers of immediate medical and food aid have poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.
French President Emmanuel Macron came to the city on Thursday with a cargo from France. He promised to explain some “home truths” to the government, telling them they needed to root out corruption and deliver economic reforms.
He was greeted on the street by many Lebanese who asked for help in ensuring “regime” change, so a new set of politicians could rebuild Beirut and set the nation on a new course.
Beirut still bore scars from heavy shelling in the 1975-1990 civil war before the blast. After the explosion, chunks of the city once again look like a war zone.