Lebanese Prime Minister Resigns

Oct 29, 2019
Originally published on October 29, 2019 11:09 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

After weeks of raucous, jubilant protests and sometimes violent attempts to quell them, there was celebration in the streets of Beirut today.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

GREENE: The prime minister of Lebanon says he is submitting his resignation. It's now up to the Lebanese president on whether to accept that resignation. Lebanon is a small country, a barely stable microcosm of the Mideast, a place where the United States and Iran both vie for influence. NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Beirut amid some of the protesters and joins me. Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: Let's start with this big announcement from Prime Minister Hariri. Why does he say he's resigning?

ESTRIN: Well, he says that for the last 13 days, the Lebanese people have been on the streets and they've been looking for a solution to a major economic crisis and, really, a crisis that they say has been going on for decades. He says he's been trying to find an exit to answer people's demands. He said, today we've reached a dead end, and we need a shock to the system.

GREENE: Remind me what the main demands were from the protesters. And do you feel like this decision is going to meet those demands?

ESTRIN: Well, it's really remarkable here in this - I'm in downtown Beirut on the main highway, where protesters have been blocking roads. And for nearly two weeks, they've been demanding that the government resign. So yes, people here said that they are thrilled. But they say it's just the first step. I mean, they're demanding so much more than just the government's resignation. They say the government failed to deliver clean water, electricity 24/7. They want no more corruption that they allege government ministers have.

So this is going to be a long road to fix their country. And you know, even more than that, protesters say they want a total overhaul of the way that their government works. The government is based on a sectarian system here, where religious parties all have a piece of the pie and they vie for power, and people here say, we want to be united; we don't want to be divided along religious lines. We want it different. So there is a lot of anticipation, a lot of excitement but also some dread because people don't know what's going to happen next.

GREENE: Well, and I guess that's the question. If there is uncertainty, I mean, this - there's a lot at stake here, right? I mean, this is a tiny country, but it figures so prominently in the region - a lot of U.S. involvement, a lot of involvement from other players in the region. What could happen if there's prolonged instability here?

ESTRIN: Well, we've already seen the effects of the last two weeks of the protest, where banks have been closed, government institutions have been closed. People can't get money, U.S. dollars, out of the banks - major economic instability. But then, you know, looking even wider than that, this is a country that so many different regional players want their involvement in. So we have Hezbollah, the militant group that is a major force in the government of; Iran, which backs Hezbollah. The U.S. has sanctioned Hezbollah lawmakers. Saudi Arabia also wants an influence here. So destabilization could be something serious.

GREENE: NPR's Daniel Estrin on the streets of Beirut this morning, as the prime minister has announced that he has submitted his resignation. Daniel, thanks for your reporting.

ESTRIN: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.