By: Tarik Johnson
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has officially submitted his resignation on Tuesday to President Michel Aoun and is awaiting the final decision. This was one of the demands from protesters who took to the streets two weeks ago, after the government tried to impose a tax on Whatsapp calls, along with other austerity measures. However this is only seen as a single win in what many news outlets are calling the “Lebanese Whatsapp revolution” or the “tax intifada,” with protesters calling for further resignations and a complete overhaul of the sectarian political system.
"I can't hide this from you. I have reached a dead-end," Hariri said in his resignation speech.
"To all my political peers, our responsibility today is how to protect Lebanon and to uplift the economy," he added. "Today, there is a serious opportunity and we should not waste it."
Lebanon is in an economic and financial crisis which has led to a deep recession. It has the third highest public debt in the world, 150% of its GDP, and its poverty and unemployment rates are high, with one third of people under the age of 35 unemployed.
Speaking about how the resignation is a good sign for protesters Lina Khatib, director at Chatham House's MENA program and research associate at SOAS, said “(It will give) the protest movement momentum after a tough few days during which some demonstrators were beginning to question whether public action was going to achieve much in the face of an obstinate political class that until Hariri’s resignation announcement was refusing to give in to people’s demands."
So far the government proposed a 50 percent cut in the salaries of civil servants and politicians and removal of some of their privileges. A few other ministers have already resigned, and before his resignation Hariri proposed to build new electrical power plants and put new taxes on banking profits. Many believe that even if these measures are taken, it’s unlikely to fix the public opinion on the politicians or end the protests because it will show the government could find billions of dollars in a short amount of time without imposing more taxes on the average citizen.
The combination of the protests and Lebanon’s already struggling economy has put enormous pressure on the countries banks. Lebanon’s banking association said banks would remain closed on Tuesday for a 10th working day, but said the central bank had provided the liquidity necessary to pay out salaries for public sector workers, including security forces. Banks previously said they will ensure people receive their end-of-month salaries through ATMs. The banks also said they would stay closed out of concern for the safety of customers and employees. While Lebanon’s pound currency is officially pegged at 1507.5 to the dollar, parallel market rates have risen in recent months. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it was evaluating an emergency reform package the Lebanese government announced last week, but which has failed to defuse the popular anger or reassure foreign donors.
Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s central bank governor told Reuters, “I am not saying that we are going to have a collapse in a matter of days, I am saying we need to have a solution in a matter of days to regain confidence and avoid collapse in the future.”
Hezbollah, a militant Shia group, that has a large impact on the coalition government led by Mr Hariri, a Sunni, has recently reaffirmed its position against the protests. On Tuesday, black-clad men loyal to Hezbollah and another Shia group, Amal, invaded a protest camp in central Beirut, yelling slogans, setting tents on fire and attacking anti-government demonstrators. A roadblock set up by protesters was also attacked. Shia opposition groups are accusing Hariri of siding with protesters and not allowing security forces to remove them from the streets. Tuesday was the first attempt to unblock roads in the capital by force and police have been instructed to not use force with protesters.
President Aoun will now have to consult parliament to form another government, but parliament is made up of the same factions that are in the outgoing coalition. Whatever they do, they will do it under intense pressure from the protest movement and from a deepening economic and social crisis.
Watch our coverage on the protests in Beirut here: