The catastrophic Beirut blasts on August 4, which left more than 200 dead and 6,000 injured, have reignited anti-government protests in Lebanon. Last Sunday, thousands of protesters pelted stones in central Beirut where Lebanon’s parliament is located. The demonstrations, which began peacefully, have since taken a violent turn, with police launching teargas canisters at protesters, who lobbed back firecrackers and rubble in return.
A day before, protesters stormed Lebanon’s foreign, economy and environment ministries to vent their anger, Deutsche Welle reported.
Why the Beirut explosion has reignited protests
The recent explosion was caused by 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored for six years in a warehouse in the city’s port. Its negligence by officials has sparked widespread public anger, which had already been stoked over the past year due to serious economic woes.
According to a BBC report, the Beirut explosion has caused damage worth $3 billion, with the country’s collective loss estimated at $15 billion. Large parts of the capital city have been devastated.
The country’s economic downturn, at the centre of which has been a currency crisis, has caused large-scale closure of businesses and soaring prices of basic commodities resulting in social unrest.
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Lebanon’s long-running protests
The protests in Lebanon started in October 2019 after the government announced plans for new taxes during the 2020 budget season, on everything from tobacco to social media platforms like WhatsApp. Public anger escalated and expanded to wide-scale protests against an unstable economy, sectarian rule, unemployment and corruption, and also compelled a shake-up of the country’s leadership.
The mass protests that went on for weeks, petered down closer to Christmas and New Year, only to restart by the middle of January. In March this year, Lebanon’s government put the country in a state of emergency to combat the spread of coronavirus, closing land and seaports, and causing concerns that this would cause a further setback to an already beleaguered country. Lebanon’s financial crisis resulted in a sovereign debt default and also affected its currency’s value.
During the emergency, protest camps were ordered to be removed by the country’s security forces and restrictions were imposed on public gatherings. The government’s decision to remove these camps were interpreted by many, including sections of the country’s press, as a move to suppress protests.
Another government change
Lebanon has been ruled by a political settlement that ended its 1975-1990 civil war, which distributes power and top offices among the country’s Shiites, Sunnis and Christians. While this complex sectarian system has largely been able to keep the country peaceful, it has made decision-making extremely difficult, with long periods of political gridlock.
The protests last October saw the ouster of the West-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who headed a national unity government that was dominated by factions linked to the Hezbollah militant group. Now, the months-old government of PM Hassan Diab has also resigned. On Friday, Diab promised early parliamentary elections as a solution for the country’s structural crisis.