GP Insights # 178, 3 November 2019
Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister, resigned on 29 October 2019, following thirteen days of street protests. The resignation came after the violence between the supporters of two Shia groups attacking the camps of the protesters and blocking the roads in Beirut. Lebanon is facing a financial crisis and is struggling to provide essential services, including electricity and water. Hariri’s resignation is seen as a boost to the protests, that witnessed street brawls instigated by the supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement Party.
The protesters demand that the government officials step down and replaced with a cabinet of independent experts who can lead Lebanon out of its financial crisis. They opine that Hariri should have resigned long ago, but ‘better late than never.’ They promise to continue their protests until all their demands are met.
What is the background?
Lebanon is an import-dependent that maintains a pegged exchange rate between the Lebanese Pound and the United States Dollar. In 2019, the GDP per capita has reached its lowest since that of 2008, and the debt-to-GDP ratio has reached its highest since 2008 at 151 percentage.
There was an increase in the government’s budget deficits and its reliance on using the foreign reserves from its Central Bank to keep the currency peg. The crisis was coupled with the strikes in gas stations, an imposed tax on gasoline, pharmaceuticals and importing of wheat. Additionally, there were wildfires in Lebanon.
According to the Economist, Lebanon’s current protests has its origins in the sectarian political system post the Taif agreement.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has raised concerns over the growing protests in the region and has linked them with the policies of the US and Saudi Arabia.
Elsewhere, many see this as a new round of Arab Spring.
What does it mean?
The widespread dissatisfaction against the existing system is culminating in violent protests across various countries. These protests have a common goal to bring down the ‘corrupt’ leaders and regimes.
These protests could lead to the emergence of new leaders and substantial changes to the existing systems. It may be early to call these protests a new Arab Spring, but they have similarities. The fact that these protests are carefully aligned with the removal of the US troops from Syria and Iran crisis raises many questions on the broader goals of these protests.