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After the Beirut Explosion, Lebanon’s Whole Cabinet Resigned. Now What?

2020-08-11 18:57:10

Days after an enormous explosion tore through the city of Beirut, leaving at least 171 people dead and thousands injured, Lebanon’s cabinet resigned on Monday, acknowledging widespread anger over government inaction and mismanagement.

But members of the opposition — activists who have long protested against a fractured political system wallowing in corruption and patronage, and residents angered at the government failures that many believe led to the deadly blast — worry that the move is insufficient to bring real change.

For now, the government has relegated itself to caretaker status, with rescue and recovery efforts still underway, critical infrastructure like hospitals and the country’s main port destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

So what happens next? Here are the key points.

When Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced that the entire cabinet would resign Monday evening, he noted that the government would stay on in a caretaker role until a new cabinet was appointed. But many are bracing for a lengthy period of political paralysis in the meantime.

Mr. Diab himself, in his resignation speech, accused the political class of trying to shift blame for the country’s ongoing economic crisis and corruption onto his cabinet. Instead, he said, deep-seated corruption was “rooted in every part of the state.”

For now, the old cabinet can continue to meet, but without the power to propose laws or issue decrees.

Under Lebanon’s current system, a new cabinet can be appointed by President Michel Aoun in consultation with Parliament, without new elections. But the president has remained largely silent, so far only acknowledging the resignations. And horse trading within the sectarian Parliament, the system at the root of many protesters’ complaints, is likely to be painfully slow.

Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the British international policy institute Chatham House, said pressure from protesters might speed up the formation of a new government, but did not necessarily mean that change would come.

“The key question is whether the new cabinet will merely be a version of the old one,” she said. While it is likely that the incoming government will include cabinet seats for those outside the ruling class, there’s little chance they will hold enough power to carry out real change.

“The ruling status quo is not willing to fully relinquish power,” she said.

“The cabinet never operated as a cohesive and coherent government,” Ms. Yahya said. “The international community should understand that this is one of the reasons why we are where we are.”

In order for trust to be restored, the government would have to include people who would inspire the confidence of both the Lebanese people and the international community, she said.

Members of Lebanon’s Parliament, whose chamber was damaged in the blast, are set to next meet again on Thursday, though a new government may still be a long way off.

For now, many of the relief efforts in Beirut will continue to fall to nongovernmental organizations, local volunteers and international aid groups. And while many hoped for a future with a functioning government at the helm, the need for relief is immediate.

But the long-term future of the governing system is now at stake, not just the immediate emergency response. And many believe that the country must look outside its governing elite for real change.

Paula Yacoubian, an independent member of Lebanon’s Parliament who recently resigned, said that even when the government was in full control, it did not take care of its citizens, leaving much of the responsibility to civil-society groups and international donors, whom she called the “real caretakers of the displaced and the wounded after this catastrophe.”

“What we really need is simple: an honest independent competent government,” she said. “The aftermath of the disaster showed us who can really serve and lead this nation. We should pick from them.”


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