Hariri says he intends to make ‘positive shock’ to country gripped by mass protests
Martin Chulov in Beirut
Tue 29 Oct 2019
Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, has announced his resignation, in a move set to spark further uncertainty in a country paralysed by political dysfunction and nationwide protests.
Hariri’s announcement came several hours after hundreds of youths overran protest sites in downtown Beirut, ransacking tents and stalls set up by demonstrators who, for the past 13 days, have demanded an overhaul of the ruling class and an end to rampant corruption.
The embattled leader said he intended to make a “positive shock” by quitting, claiming that doing so served “the country’s dignity and safety”. Over the past fortnight, he has tabled reforms, including the abolition of several cabinet positions and some cuts to spending, but the moves have fallen short of the structural changes demanded by protesters.
The protests have left politicians scrambling unsuccessfully to react and have exposed the depth of feeling in Lebanon, where an imminent economic collapse threatens to cripple the country’s banking system and social fabric.
The depth of the crisis and lack of political solutions have galvanised Lebanese citizens from all political persuasions and walks of life, leading to a movement that shows little sign of slowing down, even after the main protest site was ransacked on Tuesday.
The assault was blamed by demonstrators on two factions, Hezbollah and Amal, whose political leaders do not support a change in government. The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, the most powerful figure in Lebanon despite not holding an official position, has warned of chaos if protests were allowed to continue.
Hariri’s supporters spent much of Tuesday trying to talk him out of quitting, fearing even deeper instability in Lebanon, where political uncertainty and extreme levels of government debt have caused widespread alarm and spilled over into mass demonstrations, the scale of which had not been seen for more than a decade.
“I know for sure that the main target is the top of the system,” said Ali Dirani, a 33-year-old protester. “I don’t expect a domino effect; what I expect is that Hariri is expendable for the regime that we’re trying to topple. What people should focus on now is that we need to find an alternative. We have a problem that is rooted in the system of decision-making and the relationship between citizen and state.”