A country in crisis and lacking in leadership: What's next for Lebanon?

Last week's deadly chemical explosion was the final straw for the heavily criticised ruling government in Lebanon.

Anti-government protesters hold the Lebanese flag and flash victory sign, as they burn metal police barrier, during a protest following last week's explosion.

Anti-government protesters hold the Lebanese flag and flash victory sign, as they burn metal police barrier, during a protest following last week's explosion. Source: AP

One week after a devastating explosion tore through its capital city, turmoil continues to engulf the nation of Lebanon.

The Beirut blast has led to widespread anger from the public, culminating in the resignation of Lebanon’s ruling government, led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

It could be many months before a new candidate is appointed, leaving Lebanon without leadership as it struggles to rebuild the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

What led to the government’s resignation?

So far, 171 people have been confirmed dead in the aftermath of the Beirut blast, with over 5,000 injured and widespread damage to buildings leaving over 250,000 people homeless.

Sadness and grief in the aftermath of the blast soon turned into outrage, with protesters demanding to know how the government could have allowed such a disaster.

Protests rage in Beirut following huge explosion

That anger is unlikely to be quelled by reports the Prime Minister knew of the risks posed by the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate housed in Beirut’s port.

For many citizens, the explosion marks the latest failing of Lebanon’s political class, with much of the population without electricity, healthcare or water and the country’s worsening economic crisis driving thousands into poverty.

“This government is not the first one which has been lacking of accountability and transparency,” University of Sydney Arabic studies lecturer Dr Lucia Sorbera said.

“People have been protesting for years against this lack of accountability and the widespread corruption of the political elites.”

New video released of the moment Beirut blast ripped through hospital

How will a new government be put in place?

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun accepted the resignation of Mr Diab and has requested the current government continue in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet is formed.

The current leadership group will remain in power until a new Prime Minister is appointed by Mr Aoun.

To assume rule, any challenger will need to secure the backing of a majority of Lebanon’s sectarian political parties, which are divided on religious and cultural lines.

“Lebanon was always designed as a homeland for the Christian so there was always a sectarian nature to the republic,” Lowy Institute researcher Dr Rodger Shanahan said.

“There are a lot of rules by convention - the President is always a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister is always Sunni and the speaker of Parliament is always Shia.

“The Sunni Prime Minister is supposed to be consensus-driven within parliament, but the reality is whatever block dominates parliament tends to have their man put into power.”

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab and President Michel Aoun.
Source: AAP

Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab served as an independent candidate for the job with the backing of the 'March 8 Alliance'.

The largest party of the bloc, the Free Patriotic Movement, is a nominally Christian party, but the Hezbollah political group, associated with Shiite Islam, has significant sway over the coalition.

Opposing them are the ‘March 14 Alliance’, an amalgam of groups primarily opposed to Hezbollah.

“The Prime Minister will have to navigate both of these [political blocs] but it’s more likely he's going to be closer to the ‘March 8’ or pro-Hezbollah block,” Dr Shanahan said.

“Now who that is, is anybody's guess at this stage.”

The French connection

In the aftermath of the explosion, many in Lebanon have looked to France, its former colonial ruler, for assistance and for leadership.

After World War I, France took control of the region from the defeated Ottoman Empire and in 1926 established a democratic system of government.

Fireworks and tear gas light up Beirut after PM resigns

French President Emmanuel Macron has helped co-ordinate international aid efforts and urged Lebanon’s political class to enact change.

"Strong political initiatives must be undertaken to fight corruption, to impose transparency and to carry out reforms put forward two years ago,” Mr Macron has said.

More than 60,000 people have signed a petition urging France to re-establish its mandate over Lebanon.

French president Emmanuel Macron meets with Lebanese people in the area of Gemmayze, 2 days after the huge blast
Source: ABACA

But even with France’s involvement, experts remain doubtful the country’s political system will see positive changes.

“The nature of the system is such that it's far too entrenched for internal actors, let alone external actors, to change the nature of it,” Dr Shanahan said.

“While we might have a new government, there might be new elections, it tends to be the same people with few variations, who occupy the political positions.

“There is only one interest, and that’s that self-interest.”

Published 12 August 2020 at 4:26pm, updated 12 August 2020 at 4:57pm
By Naveen Razik