Prof. Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor is also the founder of the blog Informed Comment. Professor Cole writes on international issues. Angry Bear has featured Prof. Cole from time to time.
“Lebanon’s Leaders Resign over deaths of 200, but Trump refuses Accountability for 163,462 Deaths;” Informed Comment, Juan Cole, August 11, 2020
Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On Monday, the prime minister of Lebanon and his entire cabinet resigned en masse, reports Bassem Mroue at the Associated Press. Last week an enormous explosion destroyed Beirut’s port and part of the city, killing over 200 persons and wounding thousands, and leaving 300,000 homeless. The explosion came about after volatile ammonium nitrate was stored at the port carelessly for seven years, despite expert warnings that it could flatten the city. Government corruption and neglect were at the root of the tragedy.
Hassan Diab, a former engineering professor at the American University in Beirut and former minister of education, became prime minister in December after massive protests ousted his predecessor, Saad Hariri. By custom, the prime minister in Lebanon is a Sunni Muslim, but Diab joined a government dominated by the Shiite Hezbollah and its allies. He is a technocrat rather than an old-time sectarian, machine politician, as were most of his cabinet ministers, and became prime minister because he was the sort of leader the crowds seemed to be demanding.
When he resigned, he said of the old political class of warlords and elite sectarian families, “They should have been ashamed of themselves because their corruption is what has led to this disaster that had been hidden for seven years. I have discovered that corruption is bigger than the state and that the state is paralyzed by this clique and cannot confront it or get rid of it.”
Diab had hoped to stay on for two months to arrange for new elections and a smooth transition, but three of his ministers resigned this weekend after demonstrators massed in downtown Beirut and briefly took over government buildings, declaring one of them the “HQ of the Revolution,” and he saw the writing on the wall.
Still, while president Michel Aoun accepted Diab’s resignation, he would ask him to stay on in a caretaker role. Protesters remain in the streets and are demanding new elections under a new electoral law. It is not clear how a new electoral law would be crafted in the absence of a government, nor is it clear that parties such as Hezbollah would allow significant changes in the rules of the game.