Lebanese prime minister designate Saad Hariri announced his resignation on Thursday, July 15, after meeting president Michel Aoun in Beirut, further intensifying the country’s political crisis. Hariri claimed that president Michel Aoun did not approve his list of proposed cabinet ministers.
Following the announcement of Hariri’s resignation, supporters of his Future Movement Party took to the streets in different parts of the country blocking roads. Security forces in Beirut fired rubber bullets on one such protest.
Thursday’s resignation is the second time in less than two years that Hariri has resigned. He was leading the government in October 2019 when popular protests first erupted, forcing him to resign.
Saad Hariri apologized for his failure to form the government in the last nine months. He was designated to be the prime minister in October last year after several leaders failed to take up the post following the resignation of Hassan Diab in August after the Beirut blast. The blast killed close to 200 people and caused massive damage to the city’s infrastructure.
In a statement published in the National News Agency (NNA), Lebanon’s official news agency, Hariri accused Aoun of blocking the cabinet formation while proposing amendments to the list of names proposed by him. Aoun had rejected Hariri’s list of the names earlier too. Aoun’s office issued a statement in which it claimed that, “prime minister Hariri rejected any amendment related to any change of ministries, sectarian distribution, names or any opinion of parliamentary bloc, so that the government obtains the necessary parliamentary confidence.”
The disagreements between Aoun and Hariri over the nature of the new cabinet have been in the open for some time now. Hariri wanted to form mostly a supposed “technocratic cabinet” which would have meant most of the members would not be elected representatives and constitutionally mandated sectarian representation would be compromised. Such changes have been a major demand of sections of the popular protests going on for almost two years now.
Economic and political crisis in the country intensifies
The popular protests first broke out in October 2019 after the Hariri government attempted to impose fresh taxes while failing to provide basic public services and tackle economic problems such as inflation, rising unemployment and poverty. The protesters demanded a structural change to the country’s politics, including the end of sectarian representation in the government, claiming that to be the reason for corruption and nepotism among the political elite in the country. They also demanded a technocratic government and took to the streets each time a new government was appointed calling it corrupt.
However, Hezbollah and president Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement along with several other political parties in the country, which together hold the majority in the parliament, have been opposed to such changes leading to a political deadlock.
The lack of a formal government has further intensified the economic and political crisis in the country with a very high debt to GDP ratio and its local currency losing most of its value, drying up people’s savings. The economic condition worsened after the COVID-19 outbreak. The NNA reported that following the resignation of Hariri, the value of the US dollar touched a record high of 22,000 Lebanese pounds in the open market. This has caused the prices of essential commodities, most of which are imported, to skyrocket. It has also led the state to further end essential subsidies, such as fuel and food, causing further distress to common people.