Anger in Lebanon as Hariri resignation deepens crisis

US and France plan conference to support stricken Beirut on anniversary of port blast

 Lebanese soldiers fire rubber bullets amid clashes in Beirut with supporters of  prime minister-designate Saad Hariri, who stepped down saying he was unable to form a government. Photograph: AFP via Getty

Lebanese soldiers fire rubber bullets amid clashes in Beirut with supporters of prime minister-designate Saad Hariri, who stepped down saying he was unable to form a government. Photograph: AFP via Getty

 

Rioting erupted in Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli on Friday, injuring 19 activists and troops, during protests against political deadlock following the resignation of prime minister-designate Saad Hariri.

In the wake of Mr Hariri’s resignation, the US and France announced an international conference to support the country during its worst crisis since independence in 1943.

“All concerned parties need to work with urgency to put in place a government that’s able to implement reforms immediately,” tweeted US secretary of state Antony Blinken.

France’s foreign ministry blamed “Lebanese leaders [who] have deliberately held the country back for months, even if it sinks into an unprecedented economic and social crisis”.

President Emmanuel Macron will host the conference on the August 4th anniversary of the blast which devastated Beirut port and nearby neighbourhoods, killed 211 and rendered thousands homeless.

France’s foreign ministry said the event would “respond to the needs of the Lebanese whose situation is deteriorating every day” . Last year, Mr Macron raised €250 million in an emergency appeal for Lebanon.

Economic collapse

Appointed 257 days ago to form an independent government of experts to rescue Lebanon from economic collapse, Mr Hariri stepped down on Thursday, prompting angry Lebanese to block strategic roads and highways and attack restaurants and cafes in Beirut.

He resigned after President Michel Aoun refused to endorse a proposed 24-member cabinet unless he could appoint one-third of the ministers and exercise a veto on policies.

Mr Aoun’s demands contradict the call of international institutions and donors for an apolitical government which would enact reforms to unlock $21 billion in urgently needed funds to reboot the economy.

Mr Hariri, who heads the Sunni Future movement, has submitted multiple cabinet lists which were rejected by Mr Aoun, whose party is the largest in parliament and allied to the powerful Iran-backed Shia Hizbullah movement.

The deadlock is due to the sectarian system bequeathed to Lebanon by ex-colonial power France. This stipulates that the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliamentary speaker a Shia.

Entrenched politicians

Since October 2019, Lebanese have mounted protests demanding the ousting of entrenched politicians and a secular democratic regime.

Legislator Paula Yacoubian told CNN the politicians would hold on “because they don’t want to be held accountable” for the country’s dire situation. She suggested parliamentary elections, due next spring, could usher in change.

While Mr Aoun has pledged the elections will be on time, the 2009 poll was postponed for nine years.

Mr Hariri has said he will not propose a successor, making it difficult for another Sunni to volunteer. Consequently, the country’s caretaker government will continue to administer daily affairs but will be unable to take decisions to halt the economic decline which began in mid-2019.

Since then, Lebanon’s currency has lost 95 per cent of its value, 55 per cent of the population has been plunged into poverty, unemployment has soared, food prices have risen by 400 per cent, and essential medicines are no longer available.

Drivers queue for hours at petrol stations to fill their tanks and electricity cuts multiply as Lebanon lacks foreign currency to pay for fuel for power plants.