Lebanese Government Resigns Under Mounting Pressure
In the aftermath of last week’s deadly explosions in Beirut, protesters are demanding a complete overhaul of the country’s political system.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The Lebanese government resigns in the wake of deadly blasts in Beirut, protests against Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko continue, and Germany’s Social Democrats nominate their choice to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.
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Protesters in Lebanon Bring the Government Down
The entire Lebanese government resigned on Monday in the face of mounting pressure from protesters over its failure to prevent last week’s deadly explosions in the capital of Beirut. Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the move on Monday, saying in an address that “we follow the will of the people in their demand to hold accountable those responsible for the disaster … and their desire for real change.”
The government started showing cracks on Sunday after two top-ranking officials, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad and Environment Minister Damianos Kattar, quit the government within hours. This was accompanied by nine resignations from the country’s Parliament, putting increasing pressure on the rest of the government to follow suit.
Seething discontent. Public anger flared last week after details emerged showing that authorities stored a seized consignment of ammonium nitrate—a highly explosive chemical—in the city’s port, which contributed to the intensity of the blast. Officials were warned repeatedly that the consignment posed a significant danger to residents, but chose not to safely remove or dispose of it. The revelation of these details brought thousands of protesters onto the streets, reigniting anti-government protests from late last year that nearly brought the government down then.
On the brink. Monday’s announcement pushes Lebanon closer to the edge of political collapse. For many protesters, it isn’t just the government that needs to go—they want an overhaul of the entire sectarian political system that has ruled the country since the end of the civil war, as Hanin Ghaddar argues in Foreign Policy. Critics say it’s that system’s entrenched system of privileges and transactions that corrupts and paralyzes the government and makes it unresponsive to the needs of the public.
While the resignation of the current government is a welcome development for protesters, for many, there is a fear that the political elite is simply scapegoating a few public faces to remain in power, as Anchal Vohra writes for FP.
What We’re Following Today
Protests flare in Belarus. Protests against longtime Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko continue to rage in Minsk, Belarus’s capital, as police intensify their crackdown on protesters. Reuters reported that more than 30 people were arrested, and others were seen being dragged out of crowds and beaten with batons. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Lukashenko’s main opposition challenger who attracted some of the largest crowds of the post-Cold War era, accused authorities of rigging the election and demanded that Lukashenko step down. “I consider myself the winner of this election,” she said.
The protests erupted on Sunday after official exit polls claimed Lukashenko had won a landslide victory, despite facing his stiffest opposition in years. In the final weeks of the campaign, police cracked down on the opposition, arresting several high-profile figures—eventually forcing the hugely popular Tikhanovskaya into hiding on the eve of the vote. In our latest FP Guide, Amy Mackinnon rounds up Foreign Policy’s recent coverage on Belarus.
China hits back. The Chinese government announced that it will slap sanctions on 11 U.S. citizens after a decision last week by the Trump administration to sanction Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and other officials over Beijing’s treatment of Hong Kong. Included in the list are high-profile Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, as well as Sens. Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, Pat Toomey, and Rep. Chris Smith.
Individuals from non-profit organizations and rights groups were also included. “I want to reiterate that Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong and Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs that no external forces can interfere in,” said China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in a statement.
Violence in Congo. Nineteen people were killed in a series of attacks on three villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern province of Ituri, according to Innocent Madukadala, a local chief. Madukadala blamed the Cooperative for the Development of Congo—a paramilitary group that has been accused of carrying out similar attacks in the past.
The region has been a hotspot for ethnic tensions, with the farming Lendu people regularly clashing with the herding Hema over land usage. Tensions boiled over into full-scale ethnic conflict in 1999, which was brought under control only after the EU deployed a French-led peacekeeping mission to the region.
Tensions between the two groups have recently surged. Since December 2017, violence in the Ituri area has left almost 1,000 people dead and displaced around 500,000 others. At least 636 people have died since the beginning of this year alone.
Keep an Eye On
German Social Democrats eye the chancellorship. Germany’s Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in the country’s Christian Democrat-led governing coalition, have nominated former Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz to stand in next year’s election to succeed longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel. Scholz, whose stoic demeanor and bureaucratic style of governing invites comparisons to Merkel herself, has been a popular figure across Germany since taking over the finance ministry in 2018, especially since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Next year’s federal election marks the first time since World War II that an incumbent chancellor is not up for reelection, so the Social Democrats have good reason to hope that an open field will be advantageous for Scholz. The election is scheduled for Oct. 24, 2021.
Oil spill in Mauritius. A sunken cargo ship leaking oil near the island nation of Mauritius could “break in two,” the country’s prime minister warned as residents rush to make preparations for a disaster. The MV Wakashio, an oil tanker traveling from China to Brazil, ran aground on a coral reef near the island in the Indian Ocean on July 25, leaking an estimated 1,000 of its 4,000 ton oil cargo into the surrounding area. France and Japan rushed to provide assistance, but heavy winds have put a temporary stop to all cleanup efforts.
Mauritius’s coral reefs contain some of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, and they are a major attraction for tourists from around the world. Environmentalists warn that the oil spill could severely damage the region’s biodiversity, and the damage to the coral reef could have a lasting impact on Mauritius’s tourist-based economy.
Odds and Ends
Syrian refugees in Jordan’s Zaatari camp have found an innovative solution to the extreme conditions that make the camp unsuitable for agriculture. Working with the UNHCR, refugees have developed a form of hydroponic farming that uses old mattresses and recycled cups to grow potted vegetables. UNHCR said the method uses up to 80 percent less water than traditional farming methods. Use of this technique is still relatively localized, however, with only around 1,500 of the camp’s 80,000 residents using it to grow their own produce. The positive initial results are an indication that those numbers could grow.
That’s it for today.