Lebanon’s government is throwing in the towel again: After the detonation in Beirut, Hassan Diab’s cabinet resigned as a whole.
After the severe explosion last Tuesday in the port area in Beirut, the entire government of Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned on Monday. In the evening, Diab addressed the Lebanese in a speech. The grievances in the state are so serious that his government is powerless. He portrayed the explosion as a result of corrupt machinations.
He defended his government team against accusations and sharply attacked what he said was a corrupt political elite – without naming any names. “Their smell is everywhere,” said Diab, “they all used their weapons against us.” They prevented the change that the Lebanese demanded and that his government tried to initiate.
Justice Minister Marie Claude Najm had previously submitted her resignation on Monday. She explained her decision that she did not consider reforms to be possible “without fundamental changes to the system”. According to reports, other ministers were planning to resign when the cabinet, which originally had 20 members, decided to resign in a special meeting that afternoon. The previous cabinet remains in office until a new government is formed.
The number of deaths as a result of the explosion rose to over 200, dozens of people were still missing, as various media reported on Monday, citing Beirut’s governor Marwan Abud. While the explosion devastated wealthy districts of the Lebanese capital in particular, Abud said many foreign workers were among the dead and missing.
The resignation of the Diab government had become apparent in the past few days. The Environment Minister and the Information Minister had already resigned on Sunday. On Monday of last week – one day before the explosion – the foreign minister had also left the cabinet.
But the political consequences of the disaster are not limited to the government. As of Monday, nine members of parliament in Beirut had also resigned in protest. These developments herald eventful times for Lebanon; there may also be an early election of parliament, for which Diab had already spoken out on Saturday.
The pressure on Diab and his government, which had only been in office since January, has recently been great – not least because of the resumption of mass protests. On Saturday and Sunday, angry about the explosion in downtown Beirut, several thousand people protested against corruption, mismanagement and incompetence, which they blame for the state of the country as well as for the disaster on Tuesday.
The demonstrators were directed not only against the Diab government, but explicitly against the entire political elite of the country. Cardboard figures depicting well-known politicians were symbolically hung on the gallows, including the leader of the influential Shiite Hezbollah, a political party that was also involved in the Diab government. Last autumn, similar protests led to the resignation of the government of Diab’s predecessor Saad Hariri.
Now the country is once again facing months of struggle for influence and power. After the last election in May 2018, it took nine months for the various political groups to agree on a government and a prime minister. This was preceded by a two-and-a-half-year hanging match in which there was a struggle for the office of president, which is now held by the influential Christian politician and former warlord Michel Aoun. After the resignation from the government, the focus will be on him in the coming months.
However, it is not to be expected that the demonstrators will be satisfied with the resignation of the Diab government. Many seem even more determined after the explosion than before. Since October they have been demanding the withdrawal of the entire long-established political class, which they blame for corruption and mismanagement.
Their protest motto “Everyone means everyone” expressed the demand for a new political system with new leadership, including a new electoral law called for by many and the reform of the denominational system, in which offices are assigned according to religious affiliation.
In addition, the Diab government is by no means solely responsible for the Beirut disaster. The 2.7 million kilograms of ammonium nitrate, which apparently exploded on Tuesday, had been in the port since 2013 – long before the Diab government took office in January 2020. What triggered the explosion and why the material was not removed despite warnings is still unclear.