Lebanon: government opponents unite in a bid to topple ‘mafia’ in power

Opposition groups hope to run as a united front against traditional sectarian political parties in 2022

Demonstrators take part in a protest against mounting economic hardships in Beirut. Reuters
Demonstrators take part in a protest against mounting economic hardships in Beirut. Reuters

A group of Lebanese political parties, independent figures and civil society representatives launched the first coalition borne from massive anti-government protests in 2019 on Tuesday, in a bid to topple Lebanon’s traditional ruling class in parliamentary elections next year.

“We think that the Lebanese people as one, not sectarian, not divided, will come together for a better future for our country,” said former independent MP Paula Yacoubian during a press conference held at the Beirut headquarters of secular political party the National Bloc.

Ms Yacoubian resigned shortly after the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port last August along with a handful of other lawmakers.

In a speech, artist and activist Nada Sehnaoui presented the coalition’s “rescue initiative” that calls for an independent transitional government with exceptional powers to implement long-awaited reforms and steer Lebanon to parliamentary elections scheduled for 2022.

The current caretaker government resigned after the port explosion and prime minister designate Saad Hariri, embroiled in bitter political bickering with his rivals over ministerial posts, has not formed a Cabinet yet.

Political paralysis and lack of decision-making has worsened the country’s severe economic crisis that began in mid-2019 and pushed hundreds of thousands of people to the streets for several months later that year.

Tuesday’s press conference was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the beginning of Lebanon’s devastating 1975-1990 civil war.

Hinting at the possibility of a new war, Ms Sehnaoui said the coalition aims to “lift Lebanon from its crisis and prevent the ruling political class from dragging the country into a new April 13”.

Sixteen groups attended the press conference, including grassroots civil society movements from outside the capital. They urged others to join them.

“For the past 45 years, sectarian groups in power and militia leaders have prevented a real opposition to emerge. We have been working together for over a year and we have strong hope that we’ll be able to change the balance of power and cause the downfall of the ruling mafia,” the National Bloc’s secretary general Pierre Issa told The National.

In parallel, the Kataeb, a Christian political party, is spearheading a similar initiative that has yet to be announced. The Kataeb have been trying to shed their image of a right-wing civil-war era militia and embraced the 2019 protest movement.

The National Bloc’s Naji Abou Khalil said that Tuesday’s initiative is “open to everybody”.

“We are trying to gather as many forces as possible around a non-sectarian national identity, as long as those forces are very clearly positioned against Lebanon’s political class and especially the six sectarian leaders that head it,” he said.

He was referring to rival Christians President Michel Aoun and politician Samir Geagea, Sunni Muslim representative Saad Hariri, Shiite Muslim allies Parliament speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, as well as Druze head Walid Joumblatt.

Hussein Al Achi from Mintashreen, a political party borne from the 2019 protests, said that he hoped that Lebanese voters will not turn to traditional political parties for protection as the country’s economic crisis deepens.

The latter have sought to strengthen their popularity by opening subsidised supermarkets in their strongholds or securing the Covid-19 vaccine for their constituents.

“We want to create a real state where any citizen gets his rights from the state directly without the proxy of sectarian leaders or sectarian communities,” said Mr Al Achi.

Updated: April 13, 2021 08:36 PM


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