In Depth

Why Lebanon’s government resigned and who will rule now

Prime Minister Hassan Diab condemns ‘corruption network’ as he steps down following Beirut explosion

The entire government of Lebanon has resigned following a week of widespread protests in the wake of the deadly chemical explosion in Beirut last week.

In a brief televised speech on Monday night, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he was taking “a step back” so that he can stand with the people “and fight the battle for change alongside them”. The massive blast that tore through the capital last Tuesday, killing at least 200 people, was a result of a “corruption network” that is “bigger than the state”, he claimed.

The mass resignation followed “a weekend of angry, violent anti-establishment protests in which 728 people were wounded and one police officer killed amid a heavy crackdown by security forces”, reports Al Jazeera.

Why has the government resigned?

Even before last week’s explosion, Lebanon was gripped by a crippling political and economic crisis, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

As of the start of this year, the country’s public debt-to-gross domestic product was the third-highest in the world, unemployment stood at 25% and nearly a third of the population was living below the poverty line.

“At the same time, people were getting increasingly angry and frustrated about the government's failure to provide even basic services,” the BBC reports. “They were having to deal with daily power cuts, a lack of safe drinking water, limited public healthcare, and some of the world's worst internet connections.”

This anger bubbled over following the explosion, amid reports that the blast was the result of the improper storage of almost 3,000 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate fertiliser that had been left in a warehouse in Beirut’s port area after being confiscated from a ship impounded in 2013.

Lebanese security officials warned Prime Minister Diab and President Michel Aoun in July that the chemical stockpile “could destroy the capital if it exploded”, according to documents seen by Reuters

Furious demonstrators who took to the streets this weekend “blamed the disaster squarely on corruption and neglect from the country’s long-entrenched ruling class”, Sky News reports.

By Monday, three cabinet ministers had quit, along with seven members of parliament, prompting Diab - who only took power in January this year - to follow suit.

What did Diab say?

In what CNN calls an “impassioned” speech, Diab “berated Lebanon's ruling political elite” for allegedly fostering corruption and neglect.

Diab said his government had “gone to great lengths to lay out a road map to save the country” from its economic woes, but claimed that “a very thick and thorny wall separates us from change - a wall fortified by a class that is resorting to all dirty methods in order to resist and preserve its gains”.

“They knew that we pose a threat to them, and that the success of this government means a real change in this long-ruling class whose corruption has asphyxiated the country,” he added. “Today, we follow the will of the people in their demand to hold accountable those responsible for the disaster that has been in hiding for seven years, and their desire for real change.”

What next?

President Aoun yesterday asked the government to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet is formed.

However, while foreign observers may see the impending change in leadership as a game-changing development for Lebanese society, “the end of this government does not necessarily mean an end to the anger”, says the BBC.

“It is unlikely to be a smooth or quick process due to the country's complex political system. Power in Lebanon is shared between leaders representing the country’s different religious groups,” explains the broadcaster, which notes that “last year’s protests led to the formation of the government which has now been forced to step down over the same accusations of corruption”.

Rima Majed, a professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut, fears that Lebanon is facing a bleak future.

“This is probably the most dangerous moment in the history of this country. Unfortunately, the options we have today are very grim,” he told Sky News’ Beirut correspondent Alex Rossi.

“If there isn’t a serious will from the international community to create serious structural change in this country, we are going towards civil war. There is no alternative. It’s very unfortunate to say that in this country, we don’t believe there is rock bottom any more.”

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