Days after a major explosion spread to the city of Beirut, leaving at least 171 people dead and thousands injured, the Lebanese cabinet resigned on Monday, acknowledging widespread anger over government inaction and mismanagement.
But members of the opposition – activists who have long protested against a broken political system, plunged into corruption and patronage, and residents are angry at government failures, which many believe led to the deadly blast – worry that the move it is insufficient to bring about real change.
For now, the government has placed itself in the status of guardian, with rescue and recovery efforts still underway, critical infrastructure like the country’s hospitals and main port were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.
What happens next? Here are the highlights.
A new government does not mean elections.
When Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced that the entire cabinet would resign on Monday evening, he noted that the government would remain in a watchdog role until a new cabinet is appointed. But many of them are blocking in the meantime for a long period of political paralysis.
Diab himself, in his resignation speech, accused the political class of trying to shift the blame for the country’s ongoing economic crisis and corruption in his cabinet. Instead, he said, deep corruption was “rooted in every part of the state.”
For now, the old cabinet can continue to meet, but without the power to propose laws or issue decrees.
Under Lebanon’s current system, a new cabinet can be appointed by President Michel Aoun in consultation with Parliament, without new elections. But the president has remained largely silent, so far only accepting resignations. And the horse trade within the sectarian Parliament, the system underlying the complaints of many protesters, is likely to be painfully slow.
Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the British Institute of International Politics Chatham House, said pressure from protesters could speed up the formation of a new government, but does not necessarily mean change will come.
“The key question is whether the new cabinet will simply be an old version,” she said. While incoming government is likely to include cabinet seats for those outside the ruling class, there is little chance that they will retain enough power to make real changes.
“The ruling status quo is not ready to give up power completely,” she said.
Rescue and rescue operations are in the air.
Even before the explosion, an economic crisis in Lebanon had pushed commodity prices significantly higher, leaving many people to flee from the prospect of famine.
Now, it is unclear who will take responsibility for the long-term recovery and reconstruction process in Beirut, and in the country in general. With an estimated loss of $ 10 billion to $ 15 billion, according to the governor of Beirut, the process could take years.
Basma Tabaja, deputy head of the International Committee of the Lebanese Red Cross delegation, said in a statement that nearly half of the city had suffered “significant damage” from the blast.
“Almost 300,000 people lost their homes and belongings at a glance,” she said. “There is tremendous grief for the lost, and those who survive now need great support. Many were left with life-changing injuries, and for others this blow at the head of many other crises is too much to deal with alone. . “
But despite millions of dollars in international funding pledged to help rebuild, and potential donors waiting, many worry that dysfunction and corruption will hamper aid efforts. So far, volunteer armies have taken the lead in clearing debris roads, removing broken glass and debris. Many of them have described so far receiving little support from the authorities.
Dozens of people with family members missing since last Tuesday’s blast also described little support, including Elie Hasrouty, whose father, Ghazan, was working in the port at the time of the blast.
“Authorities delayed the start of the search for the missing in the grain silos at Beirut port and then we were given the surprising news that the search for survivors had ended without giving us any evidence of their fate,” he wrote in a Twitter post. “Enough giving up responsibility!”
The government’s resignation has done little to stop the protests.
Protests continued to take to the streets of Lebanon on Monday night, with activists saying the resignations did not meet their demands for the political elite to relinquish power.
Many believed the cabinet resignation left the country again in a deadlock it faced last fall. In October, protests forced the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He was not replaced by Mr. Diab until February.
But not much has changed at the helm of Lebanon’s government since then, nor have the country’s most powerful politicians, many of whom made progress during a brutal 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.
More protests were scheduled for Tuesday evening. But at the heart of the problem is a system built to balance power between religious and ethnic groups rather than form an effective government, said Maha Yahya, director of the Beirut-based Middle East Center. Another “national unity” government, which gave priority to representing all political parties, is likely to fail again, she said.
“The cabinet has never functioned as a cohesive and coherent government,” she said. Yahya. “The international community needs to understand that this is one of the reasons why we are where we are.”
In order for trust to be restored, the government must include people who would inspire the trust of the Lebanese people and the international community, she said.
What comes next?
Members of Lebanon’s parliament, whose room was damaged by the blast, are set to meet again on Thursday, though a new government may still be far away.
For now, much of the aid efforts in Beirut will continue to fall on NGOs, local volunteers, and international aid groups. And while many hoped for a future with a functioning government at the helm, the need for relief is immediate.
But the long-term future of the governing system is now in question, not just the immediate emergency response. And many believe the country should look outside its ruling elite for real change.
Paula Yacoubian, an independent member of the Lebanese Parliament who recently resigned, said that even when the government was in complete control, it did not care for its citizens, leaving most of the responsibility to groups in society. civilian and international donors, whom she called “the true caretakers of the displaced and injured after this catastrophe.”
“What we really need is simple: an independent, competent, competent government,” she said. “The consequences of the catastrophe have shown us who can truly serve and lead this nation. We have to choose from them. “