10/30/2019, 13.39
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Hariri resigns: 'No one is greater than his country'

by Pierre Balanian

The prime minister handed back his mandate to President Aoun, who now has two choices: either re-appoint him, perhaps with technocrats, or look for someone else. Protesters cheered the decision but will not quit the streets. Hated by protesters but valued by Lebanese leaders, Gebran Bassil remains an issue. The country's paralysis costs about $ 500 million a day.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Nothing is working between Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and Saad Hariri. After 13 days of anti-government protests by more than a million Lebanese, the Lebanese Prime Minister gave up his post.

This is Saad Hariri’s second resignation. The first time was just under two years ago, in November 2017, when he was forced to quit during a period of detention in Saudi Arabia, which tried to cause a crisis in Lebanon. The second time came yesterday afternoon, when he suddenly announced that he had “reached a dead end”.

According to Art 53 of the Lebanese Constitution, the President of the Republic must either accept the resignation and issue a presidential decree to appoint a new prime minister, or ask the incumbent prime minister to stay on as caretaker until another cabinet is formed.

Two years ago, President Michel Aoun held back before accepting Hariri’s resignation saying that the prime minister man was a prisoner and unable to decide for himself. This time things are different: Hariri personally handed in his letter of resignation to the President.

Protesters welcomed the decision as their first victory. However, they stressed that they would not stop their action until politicians who stole were not punished and the money stolen from the State in four decades had not been returned. According to a US estimate, the figure is around 800 trillion dollars in foreign accounts, 367 trillion in Swiss banks alone.

A few minutes before Hariri's resignation, with the police unable to clear the roads, some bikers claiming to be from central Beirut (but thought to be followers of Amal and Hezbollah) decided to act on their own, and moved into the streets, attacking protesters who were forced to flee.

In Martyrs' Square, they set fire to a raised symbolic giant fist (without burning it completely), destroying tents and a stage with loudspeakers and giant screen. They did not leave until protesters had left it and police and soldiers belatedly arrived.

According to reliable sources that spoke to AsiaNews, Hariri wants Gebran Bassil (protesters’ favourite target) kept out of any future government he might be asked to form, a demand Bassil rejected. Less than two years ago, the latter had used international diplomatic and legal channels to save Hariri and allow him to return home from what was then described as “optional house arrest” in Riyadh.

Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri and President Michel Aoun, Bassil’s father-in-law, also rejected the demand.

According to Mostafa Alush, a former Lebanese lawmaker, one of the reasons for the "dead end" cited by Saad Hariri is precisely Gebran Bassil (who is backed by half of Lebanon’s Christians). According to many of Bassil’s supporters, he is hated because he wanted to go on an official visit to Syria and wants to repatriate Syrians.

In a speech of less than 5 minutes before heading to the Presidential Palace, Saad Hariri tried to justify his action citing “the country’s domestic challenges”. He believes he "created a positive shock” and that he can “form a new government able to meet the challenges and defend the main interests of the Lebanese.”

Hariri thinks he will be called to form a transitional technocratic government, given the difficulties associated with three other charismatic Sunni leaders, namely Fuad Siniora, suspected of stealing over 13 billion dollars; Nagib Mikati, accused of theft of about 14 million; and Tamam Salam. Hariri is also sure of the support of Sunni Grand Mufti Abdelatif Fayez Darian, who went to see him after his resignation. However, according to sources close to Bassil’s Free Movement party, which can rely on a majority in Parliament, Hariri's re-appointment is out of the question.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s banks and stock market are still closed. Some black-market traders are buying US dollars for 1,800/2,000 Lebanese pounds, against 1,515 before the banks closed. Every day the local economy remains paralysed, the country loses about US0 million. For this reason, some prominent local figures have said that protests may continue but without blocking the roads and paralysing the whole country.

Could a transitional government made up of technocrats approved by Parliament be sufficient for protesters? It seems not, since they continue to demand the resignation of all Members of Parliament as well as the President of the Republic. Yet, who can appoint a cabinet of spotless individuals under the constitution except a prime minister appointed by the president and backed by parliament?

Lebanon has now entered a vicious economic and political cycle. People's demands are just, but nobody knows how to implement them. There are no leaders. This is why President Aoun asked protesters to choose someone among themselves as partners of dialogue.

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