22nd September 2021

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Protests in Lebanon

The catastrophic explosions in Beirut on August 4, which left more than 200 dead and 6,000 injured, revived anti-government protests in Lebanon. Last Sunday, thousands of demonstrators threw stones in central Beirut, where the Lebanese parliament is located. The protests, which began peacefully, have since turned violent, with police firing tear gas canisters at protesters, who threw firecrackers and debris in return. A day earlier, protesters stormed the Lebanese ministries of foreign affairs, economy and environment to express their anger.

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Why the Beirut explosion revived the 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. Their negligence on the part of officials sparked widespread public anger, which had already been stoked over the past year due to serious financial problems.According to a BBC report, the Beirut explosion caused $ 3 billion in damage and the country’s collective loss is estimated at $ 15 billion. Much of the capital has been devastated.The country’s economic recession, at the center of which has been a currency crisis, has resulted in large-scale business closings and soaring commodity prices, causing social unrest.

Protracted protests in Lebanon: Protests in Lebanon began 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 turned into large-scale protests against an unstable economy, sectarian government, unemployment and corruption, and also forced a reorganization of the country’s leadership.Massive protests that dragged on for weeks died down closer to Christmas and New Years, only to restart in mid-January. In March of this year, the Lebanese government placed the country on a state of emergency to fight the spread of the coronavirus, closing land and sea ports and raising fears that this could cause a further setback in an already besieged country. Lebanon’s financial crisis resulted in default on sovereign debt and also affected the value of its currency. During the emergency, the country’s security forces ordered the withdrawal of the protest camps and restrictions were placed on public gatherings. Many, including sections of the country’s press, have interpreted the government’s decision to eliminate these camps as a measure to quell protests.

Another change of government: Lebanon was ruled by a political accord that ended the 1975-1990 civil war, which distributes power and positions of responsibility among the country’s Shiites, Sunnis and Christians. While this complex sectarian system has been largely successful in keeping the peace in the country, it has made decision-making extremely difficult, with long periods of political stagnation.Protests last October saw the dismissal of West-backed prime minister Saad Hariri, who led a government of national unity dominated by factions linked to the militant group Hezbollah. Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government, which has lasted for months, has also resigned. On Friday, Diab promised early parliamentary elections as a solution to the country’s structural crisis.

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