Thousands of protestors clashed with security forces in central Beirut on Tuesday morning as they tried to prevent a confidence vote in Lebanon’s new government going ahead. Army troops deployed tear gas and water cannon against protestors at multiple points close to the Parliament building on a clear but cold winter morning.
Lebanese Forces member of Parliament Sethrida Gaegea said she refused to grant confidence to the new government.
She said the policy statement, adopted by Cabinet last week that says the country needs to take “painful steps” to pull it from the grips of economic and financial crisis, did not live up to the aspirations and expectation of the people, and therefore she refused to grant confidence to Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.
Some protestors expressed little hope that they would change anything, but felt an obligation to demonstrate against a government they feel does little to meet their demands.
New government not want Lebanese protesters wanted
Many Lebanese supporting the revolution were hoping the new government would be comprised of experts with no political ties. However, the 20-member cabinet, which includes six women, is chock-full of fresh faces with familiar political ties, albeit most with technical expertise.
“Government or no government, nothing is going to change,” said Rafic, a young protestor who acknowledged with a wry smile that as a banker he made an unlikely revolutionary. “The guys who are supposedly new ministers, new faces – they are puppets because they used to be the adviser of this one, or the secretary of this one, or the spouse of this one.”
“We just ask for an independent government of experts,” Rafic said. He voiced his concern that politicians were trying to pin blame for Lebanon’s severe economic crisis on its five-month-old protest movement, and argued that the country’s financial collapse had been in the making long before as a result of policies implemented by the political class.
MPs managed to make the necessary quorum of 65 out of the total 128 members for the morning session, despite lawmakers from Saad al-Hariri’s Future Movement showing up late. Sixty-eight members were present at the session, local Lebanese outlet the Daily Star reported. Some MPs were assisted by pro-government protestors on scooters in order to bypass those trying to prevent the session going ahead. Sryian Social Nationalist Party MP Salim Saade was hospitalized after his car was attacked on the way to the session, while the Lebanese Red Cross reported that it had transported 39 protestors to hospital, with 241 treated at the scene.
Elie, a 44-year-old doctor, stressed the need to show the international community that the government was serious about reform in order to unlock financial aid packages. The 2018 CEDRE conference in Paris, for example, required heavy reform to the electricity sector, a huge drain on state coffers that nevertheless fails to provide citizens with 24/7 power.
“The least that needs to be seen is a clear economic project that makes sense not only to us but to the global community,” Elie said, carrying a sign that read, “Leave so we can live: NO CONFIDENCE.”
Nothing has changed
“Nothing serious has come from them,” he added. “They will get elected and the system will collapse.”
The new cabinet was selected January 22 after more than a month’s delay. New Prime Minister Hassan Diab was appointed in mid-December amid ongoing anti-government protests that have swept across the country since October 17.
Although the cabinet is smaller than the previous 30-member cabinet, with 20 members it is still larger than the 18 Diab had originally called for.
Some have said the government is of “one color,” referring to the fact that it is made up of those loyal to the March 8 Alliance, which includes Iran-backed Hezbollah. The party, which lost one seat, will now hold two seats, but six pro-Hezbollah Sunni Muslim members will also sit in cabinet.
Tuesday’s events left some considering their future in the country. “I want to leave,” said Kholoud, a 41-year-old dance choreographer, seeing few prospects of success for the protest movement. “It’s very idealistic,” she explained, voicing her doubt that the political elite could ever be persuaded to step down.
“I believe in it but I know that it’s not realistic, but at the same time I can’t accept this situation.” Kholoud acknowledged the privilege afforded her by her husband’s French passport – an advantage not enjoyed by her Lebanese family. “I don’t want to leave them in this situation but I have a kid,” she said, adding that she saw no way for Lebanon to return to its former status quo. “It’s scary and unsure, but we can’t go back.”