Good riddance to Lebanon's government, but now the radical change must begin

Good riddance to Lebanon's government, but now the radical change must begin
Comment: Diab's government was built to fail and based on impossible promises. Its resignation is far from enough for a devastated people looking for justice and change, writes Nizar Hassan.
6 min read
11 Aug, 2020
Multiple government agencies were apparently aware the explosive material was stored in the warehouse [Getty]
Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the resignation of the council of ministers in a public address on Monday evening. The resignation comes after a massive protest against the establishment on Saturday, following the deadly blast at Beirut's port that destroyed a large portion of the capital on August 4. 

After the protests, ministers in Diab's government started declaring their plan to resign, putting further pressure on the premier to make the move himself.

The resignation also comes in light of political blackmail against Diab by Parliament Speaker and head of Amal Movement Nabih Berri, who responded to Diab's promise for early parliamentary election with a threat of a no-confidence vote against the government.

Regardless of the current political bickering involved, the resignation should have happened a while ago, when Diab started receiving the clear signs that no change is possible through a government formed by the ruling establishment; be it the sabotaging of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and the forensic audit of the central bank, the politically-charged appointments in public administration, or the constant pushback against necessary reforms from both ministers and parliamentarians.

At the very least, the government should have resigned immediately following the explosion in Beirut's port, which killed over 200 people, wounded thousands more, and has left hundreds of thousands with nowhere safe to live.

Journalists' investigations have revealed that officials on all levels of the hierarchy had known about the potential danger of the explosive material stored at the port, but failed (or intended not) to do anything about it. 

This government were simply direct representatives of politicians that constitute the same old rotten political establishment

Instead of a resignation of all members of the executive authority, what we heard from its head, President Michel Aoun, is optimism about the "opportunities" that the tragic event opens up, in terms of unconditional international support for the state; an optimism that is deeply insulting for a grieving population.

More than that, if Diab was honest about his intention to lead a government that would save the country from its deep economic and financial crisis back in January, he should have refused to form this cabinet from day one.

Disguised in the clothes of "technocrats", this government was nothing different from its predecessors. It might have offered the public relatively new faces, but these were simply direct representatives of politicians that constitute the same old rotten political establishment. Diab was nothing but delusional to go along with this formation, thinking he could change things through a cabinet of puppets controlled by the vested interests that have hindered change.

"I have said before that the corrupt establishment is entrenched in all parts of the state," Diab said in his resignation statement. "But I discovered that the corrupt establishment is larger than the state."

Had he listened to our voices for years, he would have had this realisation earlier, rather than making impossible promises and leading a government that oversaw further destruction and crisis, and weakened the revolutionary momentum of the October uprising. 

Read more: Lebanon's oligarchs crashed the economy, now they're making the people pay

But the big question now is about what follows. The government's resignation is no remedy for the pain of a devastated and increasingly impoverished people. If any, its outcome will be more denial of responsibility for the multiple crises facing us with an extended period of care-taking government.

Another possible although unlikely outcome, favoured by the Lebanese Forces and other sectarian parties seeking a larger share in parliament, would be a new parliamentary election based on the current electoral law.

The current electoral law not only failed to include necessary reforms related to accountability, equity in representation, and gender participation. It also distorted the notion of proportional representation in favour of a hybrid system that deepens the sectarian nature of politics and makes it harder for new forces to be represented.

At a time where political change is more urgent than ever, another election based on this law would only push us backwards and renew the legitimacy of the establishment.

Worst of all, the outcome might be a new government where most oligarchs have their share, under the pretext of "national unity".

What we need today is a political authority that derives its legitimacy from people themselves

Such a government, be it headed by Saad Hariri or any other figure from the establishment, would fail to restore confidence on both the domestic and international levels, enact the desperately needed reforms, or find Lebanon a way out of the crisis. At most, it might secure some funding from regional or international actors that put Lebanon in further (financial and political) debt, without challenging the interests preventing a serious restructuring of political and economic structures.

This outcome would not only be a blow to the voices of masses who have demanded a government independent from the establishment since October 17, it will also be the last nail in the coffin of an already-disintegrating state.

Instead, what we need today is a political authority that derives its legitimacy not from a parliament complicit in the crimes against the people it is supposed to represent, but rather from people themselves, be it through referenda or other tools of direct democracy.

The Lebanese state needs a complete remaking, starting with a new constitution that replaces confessional power sharing with real democracy, and new laws that provide the basis for an economic and social order founded on the values of social justice.

We cannot hope for the change we need until the oligarchs and kleptocrats are overthrown

There is no shortage of proposals and ideas for such changes. The shortage is in the will and interest of those at the top to implement them.

Diab was right to say of Lebanon's rulers that "what is needed is to change them, because they are the real tragedy for the Lebanese people". We cannot hope for the change we need until the oligarchs and kleptocrats are overthrown by popular force, and the deep corruption and incompetence that they have nurtured in all levels of public administration is eradicated.

Never have the words of writer Samir Kassir, few weeks before his assassination in 2005, been more relevant: "Return to the streets, comrades, and you shall return to clarity." 

Nizar Hassan is a Lebanese organiser, researcher and podcaster based in Beirut. He is a co-founder of the progressive political movement LiHaqqi, he researches workers rights and social movements, and co-hosts The Lebanese Politics Podcast.