Only a few demonstrators gathered in the centre of Beirut on Monday evening. Although the government has just resigned, no one is in the mood to celebrate, reports journalist Timour Azhari: “It feels like nothing has changed – we are politically back where we were six months ago, only that living conditions have dramatically deteriorated.
Hassan Diab, the now resigned prime minister, had only been in office with his cabinet for six months. He was to implement political and economic reforms after mass protests against Lebanon’s corrupt system. But nothing happened, the country’s economy continued to plummet and the middle class became impoverished.
Then last week, Lebanon’s corruption and mismanagement probably contributed to 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploding in the port of Beirut, destroying half the city. The number of deaths has now risen to over 170, at least 6000 people have been injured and hundreds of thousands have lost their homes.
But Prime Minister Hassan Diab, when he resigned, pretended that he bore no responsibility. “The system of corruption is bigger than the state,” Diab said in a television address. He blamed the country’s political elite for the disaster without considering himself part of it. The real power is held by the self-proclaimed leaders of the denominational groups, but in essence Diab is right: although he was prime minister, he had little to say. The power in Lebanon lies with others – often former warlords who now wear suits.
After 15 years of civil war, the Taif Agreement of 1989 divided the state and its benefices between the various denominational groups and their self-appointed leaders. Since then, this oligarchy has continued to undermine state institutions and build up patronage networks. The most powerful group is Hezbollah – a party, militia and state within a state – with its leader Hassan Nasrallah.
The anger against these power cliques is now greater than ever in Lebanon. Even the fearsome Hezbollah is loudly criticised during demonstrations. Lebanon is experiencing decisive weeks: Will it still be possible to reform the system? Or will the elites once again prevent this?
Diab apparently wanted proper reconnaissance, but there is little sign of hope. The powerful have long since taken precautions. Prime Minister Diab originally did not want to resign – he called for new elections. All of a sudden, several Diab ministers resigned, probably at the behest of their supporters behind the scenes – the government was threatened with collapse. Then the influential Nabih Berri threatened that the parliamentarians would question the government about the explosion on Thursday: Berri, leader of the Shiite Amal party and speaker of parliament for almost 28 years, wanted to blame Diab.
Diab, on the other hand, apparently wanted to actually become dangerous to the power cliques: He had wanted to set up a serious Lebanese commission of inquiry to clarify the background to the explosion, reports the well-informed journalist Timour Azhari, who was also one of the first to uncover the large amount of ammonium nitrate in the port. It is still unclear how it could have happened that despite repeated warnings the dangerous substance remained in the port for years.
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