The Lebanese government’s decision to propose a tax on WhatsApp calls on Oct. 17, 2019, sparked an uprising from the Lebanese population already frustrated by the political and economic situation. Angry protestors stormed the headquarters in the capital, Beirut, and within hours, the government cancelled the proposed tax.
However, the situation opened the floodgate to a wave of discontent that had been building up in Lebanon for years and has yet to be solved.
The Lebanese people called for a complete overhaul of the country’s political system and the formation of an independent, non-sectarian government. They were united in their deep-rooted frustration over the government’s inability to deal with the economic crisis: rising prices, high unemployment, poor public services and corruption.
Soon after, tens of thousands of demonstrators across the country from all religious sects and political parties, forced then Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to submit his resignation, along with his national unity government which included the terrorist group Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and other powers. Some considered the resignation to be an achievement of the revolution. Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab was later assigned to form a new government, but he failed to do so because of Lebanese sectarian differences.
Sectarianism is embedded in Lebanon’s political structure, with top posts allocated by sects. By law, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the president must be a Maronite Christian and the parliament speaker a Shia Muslim. Seats in the parliament are also subject to a sectarian quota and political parties are generally affiliated with a religious sect. These divisions have led to tensions in daily life as well as in the political arena.
The situation remained stable until the massive explosion that shook the port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, killing more than 200 people, injuring more than 6,000 and leaving 300,000 people without shelter. The blast occurred when a fire at the warehouse ignited a cache of ammonium nitrate — an explosive substance that had been stored at the facility over six years. The explosion itself exposed great corruption within the Lebanese system. The highly-flammable materials were stored without measures taken to protect the port and the true owner of the cargo was never disclosed, although many fingers pointed blame at the Hezbollah terror group.
To date, none of the people responsible for the explosion have been imprisoned or held accountable for what happened at the port or for the current situation. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic has emerged to further impact Lebanon’s economic collapse. Despite many empty promises by the Lebanese president and parliament to improve the economic situation, the trend towards poverty continues, while Lebanon suffers without solutions.
Efforts to form a Lebanese government continue to fail because of sectarian divisions and Hezbollah control that prevent the rise any new government not in line with the existing party’s principles. In addition, Iran’s blatant interference and policies may cause Lebanon to enter negotiations with the U.S. administration as part of its affiliation with Iran.
There is recent talk of handing over the task of government formation once again to al-Hariri, reversing the achievements of the revolution as if nothing happened. For this to happen, al-Hariri must present viable candidates that parliament will approve with a majority so he may take position as prime minister. Meanwhile, Hassan Diab continues to lead until the Lebanese parties agree to form a new government.
These events are likely to coincide with a French initiative to reform Lebanon.
President of France, Emmanuel Macron recently flew to Lebanon. France stipulated that Lebanon must reform the current situation as a condition to obtain international aid.
Despite the national unrest, al-Hariri insists that his family has brought peace to Lebanon, stopped the civil war and put the nation back on the region’s political map.
However, questions still haunt the Lebanese population: When will Lebanon be independent of Iranian and Syrian interference and free of Hezbollah’s influence? When will Lebanon finally be able to decide its own fate?