Following the explosion from the port of Beirut on August 4th and the subsequent violent protests of the population due to the lack of reforms in times of crisis, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab presented his and his government’s resignation to the President Michel Aoun on Monday, August 10th.
Moreover, his political move comes after the previous resignations of the Information Minister and the Environment Minister at the end of last week, together with several parliament representatives. “I apologize to the Lebanese people for failing to fulfill their aspirations,” Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said. “Change remained elusive. Since reality did not match the aspirations, and after the horror of the Beirut disaster, I, therefore, submit my resignation from the government.” Also, Environment Minister Damianos Kattar told Prime Minister Hassan Diab during a ministerial meeting on Sunday: “My kids’ friends died during the Beirut explosion and I cannot keep on performing these responsibilities in the ministry.”
In January, as a result of several months of negotiations, after his predecessor, Saad Hariri, stepped down under pressure from the protest movement, Diab’s government was formed. His government, which was supported by Hezbollah, did not manage to implement the sweeping political and economic reforms that it had promised.
Although Diab’s resignation had appeared inevitable after the catastrophe, he seemed unwilling to leave and only two days ago made a televised speech in which he offered to stay on for two months to allow for various factions to agree on a road map for reforms.
However, ministerial sources told Arab News that Diab urged ministers who were intending to submit their resignations on Sunday to hold off, that the Cabinet would meet on Monday to discuss a mass resignation rather than individual exits.
President Michel Aoun accepted Diab’s resignation on Monday and asked the government to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet was formed.
After stepping down, PM Diab blamed endemic corruption for the devastating explosion last week that tore through the capital. The explosion killed about 200 people, wounding at least 6,000 more, while a number of 300.000 were displaced, as a result of the blast. The popular critique was fuelled by the explosion, accusing the political leadership of corruption, while the country was already struggling with the economic crisis.
A member of the Future Parliamentary Bloc, Dr. Assem Araji, said there was no specific deadline for the president to call for parliamentary consultations to appoint a new prime minister. “This is what happened in previous governments and it took a long time, but with the current circumstances, consultations are supposed to take place quickly,” he told Arab News. “We are facing a big problem. A crime resulted from negligence, and there is a huge humanitarian tragedy that requires an international investigation to find out who is responsible for this crime.”
Previously, Lebanon’s president had said explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the port. He later said the investigation (with a six-day deadline) would consider whether the cause was external interference as well as negligence or an accident.
In his first sermon after the explosion, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi called the blast a crime against humanity. He added that an international investigation must be sought to uncover and announce the full facts, with the obligation to hold accountable everyone responsible for this massacre and catastrophe, regardless of their status. Al-Rahi insisted that a new regime be established, based on neutrality, in order for stability and unity to be restored to Lebanese society.
On the other hand, President Aoun rejected any international investigation and declared his confidence in the local probe. In a statement issued by his media office, Aoun said: “The demand for an international investigation is aimed at misleading the truth. The judgment will be meaningless if it takes too long to be issued. The judiciary must be swift because delayed justice is not fair. It must be immediate and without haste to ascertain who is a criminal and who is innocent.”
On Sunday, August 9th, world leaders and international organizations pledged nearly $300m in emergency humanitarian aid to Beirut but warned no funds would be made available until Lebanese authorities committed themselves to the political and economic reforms demanded by the people.
Local and international rescue teams continue their search for those missing in the wreckage of the wheat granaries administration building in the port. “The military teams working at the site of the explosion used accurate sensors to find out if there were chemical, radiological or biological materials, but none were found,” an officer from the Lebanese Army’s Engineering Regiment told Arab News. According to the military source, this meant that “there were no missiles used in the bombing process. The explosion turned the place from land into a watery bay.”
The Beirut Port administration is increasing its efforts to resume activity at the undamaged parts of the port so that goods can be delivered to their owners and there is food security for the Lebanese. Work is underway to secure an alternative berth to receive ships of wheat and deliver them directly to mills, according to the National Information Agency.
Having a look at the ensemble of recent events, in a statement to Al Jazeera, Rami Khouri, a professor at the American University of Beirut, described the developments of the past week as “a historic turning point in the modern political governance of Lebanon” that is “just at the beginning”. Khouri said there were essentially two main forces currently in Lebanon: “One is Hezbollah and its close allies, and the other one is the protest movement or the revolution as they call themselves – these are all kinds of people but they do represent the majority of the population. They will have to agree on whether the transitional government that comes in is a serious reformist government, with “clean” and efficient people that can get the support of the international community and do a quick deal with the IMF.”