Date: Oct 30, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Hariri bows to the people’s will
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Bowing to pressure from two weeks of mass anti-government protests, Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned Tuesday, hoping the dramatic move would constitute “a big shock” to end the impasse that threatened to further aggravate the country’s economic and political crisis.

Hariri’s surprise move immediately evoked a wave of cautious relief and cheers among thousands of protesters who have staged a nationwide popular uprising since Oct. 17, demanding the government’s resignation, an overhaul of the sectarian-based ruling system, and the return of “looted public money” from politicians.

Speaking to delegations, including Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, former prime ministers, and future Movement MPs and officials who came to his Downtown residence Tuesday night to express their support shortly after he submitted his resignation to President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace, Hariri said he hoped the move would help overcome the crisis.

“I just want to say: May God protect Lebanon and we hope to get out of this impasse and we hope that the country will be fine. I am satisfied because resignation is what the people want,” a seemingly relaxed Hariri said.

Besides fulfilling a major demand of the protesters, Hariri’s resignation cleared the way for the formation of a new government, ruling out the possibility of a Cabinet reshuffle.

Yet questions remain about what the shape of the new government will be and who will form it. Will it be a technocrat government as demanded by protesters and some parties, or a government representing all the main political parties, as is the case in Hariri’s current 30-member Cabinet?

Hariri’s resignation, which was apparently not coordinated beforehand with Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri, cast doubts about the possibility of his return to the premiership.

The lack of coordination over the resignation reflected differences among the three leaders over a possible Cabinet reshuffle, after Hariri’s attempts to make a change in the government hit snags over Aoun’s insistence that Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil retain his post in any reshuffle or new Cabinet. Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and Aoun’s son-in-law, has been the target of harsh slogans by protesters who accused him of corruption.

Hariri’s resignation came against the will of Hezbollah, whose leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said last week he did not support the government’s resignation, voicing fears of a power vacuum.

Hariri announced his resignation in a televised address on the 13th day of swelling demonstrations. His speech came shortly after a group of some 100 Hezbollah and Amal Movement supporters destroyed and burned tents belonging to anti-government protesters in Downtown Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square, after beating demonstrators who were blocking the nearby “Ring Bridge.”

“For 13 days, the Lebanese people have waited for a political solution that stops the [economic] deterioration. Throughout this period, I tried to find a way out, through which we can listen to the voice of the people and protect the country from the security and socio-economic risks. Today, I reached a dead end and it has become necessary to make a big shock to face the crisis,” Hariri said, speaking from his Downtown residence.

“I am going to Baabda Palace to submit the resignation of the government to President Michel Aoun and to the Lebanese people in all regions, in response to the will of the many Lebanese who took to the streets demanding change, and in compliance with the need to provide a safety net that protects the country in this historic moment,” he said.

Hariri appealed to all Lebanese to ensure the country’s interest and safety, the protection of the peace and the prevention of economic deterioration prevailed over all else.

To his political partners, Hariri said: “Our responsibility today is to protect Lebanon and prevent any fire from reaching it. Our responsibility is to revive the economy, and there is a serious opportunity that should not be missed. I place my resignation at the disposal of the president and all the Lebanese. Positions come and go, but what is important is the dignity and safety of the country.”

Citing a famous quote from his late father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, he said: “I too say: ‘No one is greater than his country.’ May God protect Lebanon. Long live Lebanon.”

Later, Hariri went to Baabda Palace and handed Aoun the resignation letter. He did not speak to reporters after the 15-minute meeting.

In the letter, Hariri said he was convinced of the “need to cause a positive shock and the formation of a new government capable of confronting challenges and defending the supreme interests of the Lebanese.”

Hariri’s supporters from the Future Movement protested the resignation by briefly blocking main roads in Beirut, namely in Mazraa, Barbir, Qasqas and the Sports City Stadium areas.

Later, the Future Movement issued a statement saying that Hariri hoped supporters would refrain from any street protests and cooperate with the Army and security forces to facilitate the movement of citizens.

According to Article 69 of the Constitution, Hariri’s resignation means that the entire Cabinet is considered resigned, triggering a new government formation process.

The source said Aoun would hold political consultations before asking ministers to serve in a caretaker capacity.

“The government is considered resigned, immediately, but now the president has the right to take as much time as he wants before issuing a statement,” the source said. He added that Aoun was expected to issue a statement Wednesday accepting the resignation and asking the current Cabinet to serve in a caretaker capacity until a new government has been formed.

He is also expected to set a date for parliamentary consultations to appoint a prime minister-designate.

Hariri formed a 30-member national unity government on Jan. 31, after eight months of wrangling among political rivals over the distribution of portfolios. It was the first Cabinet since the May 2018 parliamentary elections.

Hariri, 48, became prime minister for the second time in December 2016 following Aoun’s election as president. He served his first term as prime minister from 2009 to 2011.

His resignation drew mix reactions internally and externally.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Hariri’s resignation had made the crisis in Lebanon “even more serious.”

“Prime Minister Hariri has just resigned, which makes the crisis even more serious,” Le Drian told Parliament in Paris. He urged the Lebanese authorities “to do everything they can to guarantee the stability of the institutions and the unity of Lebanon.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for calm and restraint in Lebanon following Hariri’s resignation. “The secretary-general is closely following developments in Lebanon, including today’s resignation announcement by Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He appeals for calm and restraint,” a statement released by Guterres’ spokesperson said.

The secretary-general “calls on all political actors to seek a political solution that will preserve the stability of the country and respond to the aspirations of the Lebanese people. He calls on all actors to avoid violence and respect the rights to peaceful assembly and expression,” the statement added.

Berri also called for “immediate calm” hours after Hariri resigned and supporters of his Amal Movement and Hezbollah attacked protesters.

“What is happening requires immediate calm and dialogue between all Lebanese sides,” Berri told local TV channel NBN. “What is happening is not sectarian at all,” he added.

Interior Minister Raya El Hassan said Hariri’s resignation was “essential to prevent the country from sliding into civil fighting, the danger of which we saw today in Downtown Beirut.”

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt called for calm and dialogue among rival factions. “In this fateful moment and after Sheikh Saad Hariri announced the government’s resignation after he tried hard and I tried with him to reach a settlement, I again call for dialogue and calm,” Joumblatt tweeted.

A Hezbollah minister warned that the resignation would further complicate the crisis. “We do not think Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation will bring the country out of the crisis and open the door to solutions. Rather, it will further complicate matters,” Youth and Sports Minister Mohammad Fneish, one of three Hezbollah ministers, said.

The Association of Banks in Lebanon said banks would remain closed for the 12th day in a row Wednesday due to the protests.