Dalati Nohra / AP
Updated at 3:25 pm ET
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the resignation of his cabinet on Monday, responding to anger over a catastrophic explosion in Beirut.
“Today I announce the resignation of this government,” Diab said in a national television address. “God save Lebanon.”
Diab’s speech was published by the Lebanese National News Agency, the state-run media.
His resignation came after a deadly blast at a warehouse last Tuesday – triggered by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in the port of Beirut – that killed at least 160 people, injured thousands and left many homeless, destroying part of the city.
Public outrage rose after the blast, focusing on the carelessness that led to one of the worst eruptions in Lebanese history.
The huge pile of hazardous material, which officials say was known for years, had been allowed to languish in the port since 2013. Intense protests erupted, with many calling for senior officials to “resign or hang”.
“We are facing an earthquake that struck the country, with all its humanitarian, social, economic and national consequences,” Diab said.
With the resignation of the Prime Minister, it is now up to President Michel Aoun to determine the next steps.
After Diab submitted his government’s resignation letters to Aoun late Monday, Aoun urged Diab and his ministers to continue in office until a new government is installed, according to the presidency’s Twitter account.
President Diab leaves Baabda Palace: God save Lebanon .. “This is what I say.” Pic.twitter.com/RSrQBLmbyj
– Lebanese Presidency (@LBpresership) 10 August 2020
Diab, a 61-year-old professor and former education minister, has only been in the role since January. When he took over, Diab faced many of the same challenges that forced his predecessor, Saad Hariri, to give up. Even before the recent catastrophe, Lebanon was seeing widespread and persistent protests over allegations of political corruption and frustration with an deepening economic crisis.
Lebanon has a government structure for power sharing, with different groups each represented by one wing of the government. The political system forces the presidency to go to a Christian, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament must be a Shiite Muslim.
This system has been blamed for the instability and political division of the country’s past. NPR reports that the divisive nature of the Lebanese system has made it difficult for citizens to effectively organize against the leadership – and secure significant political change.
Moving forward, one possibility would be for Lebanon to hold early elections. But Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, said that would not be enough.
“The call for early elections before the August 4 outbreak may have robbed people, but not after,” Yahya said. “We are going through this. The scale of the tragedy and the depth of the anger is too much.”
The best-case scenario to move forward, according to Yahya, is to appoint an independent prime minister who will undertake economic reforms and “unite an economic and financial rescue plan, but also prepare for next year’s elections.” .
Yahya said the Lebanese people should have a “guide” from the pain they are experiencing – from the explosion, but also from the country’s miserable economy.
“You have to explain to people why they are going through this. And those in charge will be held accountable,” Yahya said. “And you have to show them the way out. You have to show them that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
“And given all the questions about the political legitimacy of the current political class, you give them a way to vote for them and vote for whoever they think now represents them.”