Written by Vivian Yee
Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon offered his resignation Tuesday, bowing to a demand of the enormous antigovernment protests that have consumed the country and suspended daily life for nearly two weeks.
“I’m at a dead end,” Hariri said in a televised speech. “Jobs come and go, but what’s important is the country,” he added, echoing the words of his father, Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister who was assassinated in 2005. “No one’s bigger than the nation.”
But there were no signs of softening from the protesters, whose signature chant — “All of them means all of them” — encapsulates their fury at the entire political class. They returned to the demonstrations and roadblocks Tuesday after the announcement, despite an attack on protesters earlier in the day.
Years of barely suppressed rage over Lebanon’s corruption, dysfunction and widening inequality detonated Oct. 17, when the government, frantic to come up with new revenue to head off the financial crisis, announced a tax on calls made over popular, free internet-based messaging services, including WhatsApp.
Over the next several days, protests mushroomed from dozens of people into the hundreds of thousands.
Banks, schools and some offices have been closed ever since as protesters have seized and blocked major roads, defying attempts by the Lebanese Army to reopen them.
Whoever succeeds Hariri will be hard-pressed to address the protesters’ ultimate target: Lebanon’s deadlocked, corrupt political system, under which leaders of the country’s 18 officially recognized religious groups divide power and state funds for themselves and their followers at the expense of the country as a whole.
A few hours before Hariri spoke, supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, two powerful Shiite Muslim political parties, charged peaceful protesters in downtown Beirut, beating some of them and destroying tents that demonstrators had set up there.
It was unclear what provoked the fight, but the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had expressed opposition to the government’s resignation Friday, dividing some of his followers between personal reverence for him and anger with the government. Similarly, Amal supporters have rushed to defend their leader, Nabih Berri, speaker of Parliament, when he has been lumped in with the other leaders accused of corruption.
It is now up to President Michel Aoun and Parliament to settle on a new prime minister.