Regional Destabilization

On Sunday, Israel identified one of its citizens, Ayman Haj Yahya, who was indicted on charges of spying on behalf of Iran.  Yahya was a well-known Palestinian activist—at one point he was a prominent member of Balad, an Arab nationalist party, which won three seats in the new Israeli Knesset.  While initial hea

Lebanon formed a new government on Tuesday, headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab. But it’s unlikely to be a political panacea, because Beirut is suffering from a malaise that can’t be solved by replacing the old ministerial lineup with a new one. This is all the more true because

On Tuesday, Lebanon’s caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil optimistically tweeted that a new government would be formed “within hours.” Whether or not Khalil’s forecast bears out Beirut’s ongoing political dysfunction will not end with the formation of a new government.

In response to countrywide street protests, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his cabinet resigned on October 29, 2019 setting off a nearly two-month search for a replacement. Finally, this past Thursday, President Michel Aoun tasked Hassan Diab – a former education minister and American University of Beirut (AUB) professor – with forming a government after he received 69 votes from parliamentarians in support of his premiership.

Hassan Diab

Lebanon once again finds itself without a functioning government. Saad Hariri’s January 2019 cabinet – painstakingly formed 10 months after the country’s last parliamentary elections – resigned on October 29, and the prospect for a new government seems increasingly distant. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s economy is rapidly failing, and foreign donors have dismissed the possibility of providing Beirut with any aid until it forms a new government.

Lebanon’s 76th Independence Day this year coincided with the 37th day of countrywide anti-corruption protests. The Independence Day celebrations reinvigorated the street, bringing tens of thousands of protesters into Lebanon’s public squares to demand freedom for Lebanon from its corrupt political class. However, these same political elites remain as adamant about holding on to their power as the protesters are for change. Amid this dynamic Lebanon’s uprising may have reached a stalemate.

As Lebanon’s protests enter another week, there are three developments to watch: President Michel Aoun’s controversial remarks last Tuesday; the failed nomination of Mohammad al-Safadi as prime minister; and Hezbollah’s political maneuvering as government formation continues. These events will shape the future trajectory of the protests.

Aoun’s Controversial Speech

Lebanon’s protests have entered their fourth week, but have produced very few results. The uprising scored an early victory by prompting Prime Minister Saad Hariri to announce his government’s resignation on October 29, fulfilling one of the protesters’ demands. Yet, nine days after Hariri’s resignation, little apparent progress has been made on forming a new government, and it remains unclear whether that government will take the form demanded by the protesters – namely, a smaller cabinet of independent technocrats.

Iran’s potent admixture of military aid, bribes, and intimidation has made it the dominant power broker in Iraq, but it has also engendered a backlash by Iraqi Shi’a protestors fed up with widespread poverty and unemployment due to corruption and lack of economic reform. As protestors have increasingly turned their ire toward Iran, Tehran feels its investments to garner dominant political influence slipping away.

Two weeks after they began, Lebanon’s anti-government protests have not abated. Despite certain developments like Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation, the protesters have not cleared the streets and are still insisting on their original demand to bring down the entire political class in government. The following update provides the latest state of play, analyzing speeches by Hezbollah’s Secretary-General and Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation.

Nasrallah’s Speeches and the Street’s Response