Lebanese PM Hariri resigns as protesters demand the dismissal of the parliament and new elections

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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (Photo: http://en.kremlin.ru/)

Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri resigned and dissolved his government, declaring he has reached a “dead end” in trying to resolve the crisis.

Lebanon, Israel’s neighbor to the north, is on the brink of economic turmoil, and since October 17 violent protests have paralyzed the small country. The proverbial “stick that broke the camel’s back” was the government’s decision to tax the use of the “whatsapp” app. The move was intended to alleviate the economic crisis, but the violent protests that erupted have worsened the situation considerably. Many schools and universities, as well as all the banks, are now closed, and many are afraid that salaries will not be paid at the end of the month.

As long as banks are closed and roads are blocked, Lebanon loses about 150 million USD per day. The Lebanese pound becomes weakened every day. A big fear is that the (mostly Saudi) investors in the Lebanese banks could decide to pull their funding. If there is also a bank run in Lebanon as soon as they open, the economic crisis will deepen significantly.

Demonstrators are protesting against corruption within the government, plagued by nepotism and secret deals. Even though the government passed a number of reforms in order to appease the protests, including cutting their own salaries in half, the demands of the protesters escalated to include the resignation of the government, the dismissal of the parliament and new elections, as well as a change in the current constitution. What sets this demonstration apart from many earlier ones is that it seems to include all different religions and faiths, all levels of society, and it takes place in many smaller cities as well, not just in Beirut. In most cases, the protests have been fairly peaceful so far, and security forces have acted with restraint.

Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has accused the protesters of being paid by foreign powers, and a number of Hezbollah activists have attacked protesters in the streets. Following the resignation of Hariri, people from Hezbollah and Amal (another Shia party) burned tents of protesters in order to clear the road and beat up people.

In some places the message of the resignation caused dances of joy in the streets among the protesters. The question is whether this really will stabilize the situation or if the power vacuum it leaves will make things worse. Many protesters hope that this is the first step towards a true democracy, while others are worried that the turmoil and uncertainty will only increase.

The Lebanese democracy is based along religious lines, as Lebanon is one of the most diverse countries in the Middle East with over 18 religions. By law the president must be Christian, the Prime Minister Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the parliament Shia Muslim. Each religion has a number of allotted seats in the parliament. But the religious division of the constitution is based on a census taken in 1932 that doesn’t represent the current population of Lebanon. A big fear is that the protests will develop into fights between the different ethnicities and religions, which could cause an escalation leading to a civil war. Currently, thought, most demonstrators wave only Lebanese flag, not politically or ethnically affiliated flags.

The newly resigned government was a favorable government for Hezbollah, as Hezbollah held many high posts in the government and enjoyed high salaries and budgets. Nasrallah worked hard to create the government coalition, and Hezbollah will be highly involved if this leads Lebanon to elections.

How will it affect Israel? As for the moment, it seems like this situation will keep Hezbollah busy, so Israel’s northern border could stay calm for the foreseeable future. Israel has been hurt by going into Lebanon in the past, and has no interest in getting involved now. One of the protests against Hezbollah is that they are using Lebanese tax payer money to fight Israel, and that they might bring a war that is really between Israel and Iran to be fought out on Lebanese ground.

As the situation is now, all we can do is watch the developments and pray that Israel will be able to stay out of trouble.