Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri/Bloomberg
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has stepped down after nearly two weeks of nationwide protests, triggered in part by a currency crisis and struggling economy, reported Bloomberg.
“Today, I will not hide that I reached a dead end, and it’s time for a major shock to confront the crisis—I am going to the presidential palace in Baabda to submit my government’s resignation to the president and to the Lebanese people everywhere in response to their will,” said Hariri.
The stakes are high for Lebanon, which straddles the region’s geopolitical fault lines and has often been a proxy battleground for the Middle East’s broader conflicts.
Celebrations broke out in central Beirut after Hariri announcement, with protesters thanking him for taking the first step to address popular demands. But protesters who began to regroup amid wrecked and smouldering tents said they now wanted other top officials to follow suit.
Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets across the country since 17 October 2019, demanding the ouster of a ruling class they say has lined its pockets from the public purse while neglecting services and living standards.
The government presented an emergency package last week that sought to address some of the grievances by laying out plans to rescue the country’s finances and set up an anti-graft committee but was rejected by demonstrators who said they would accept nothing less than the resignation of the government and key officials.
Lebanon is struggling to find fresh sources of funding as the foreign inflows on which it has traditionally relied have dried up. Promises of assistance from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Lebanon’s former benefactors, have largely failed to arrive.
The government needs to cut spending, raise taxes and fight corruption to unlock some $11 billion in international aid pledges made at a Paris donor conference in 2018, but Hezbollah had opposed measures that would hurt low-income families that form large swaths of its support-base.
Recently, Banque du Liban (BdL) Governor warned that a political solution is needed within ‘days’ to avoid economic collapse and restore public confidence after 12 days of anti-government protests that have forced banks to close.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon has said lenders will not reopen their doors until a political solution is found to the crisis but the closures have increased uncertainty and fed worries that a financial crisis is looming.