Lebanon protesters seek to shut down key state institutions

Lebanese stage sit-ins at ministries, banks and state-affiliated companies in a bid to force ruling elite to step down.

Protesters carry Lebanese flags and shout slogans, in front the entrance of lebanese parliement building during ongoing anti-government protests in downtown in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, 05 November 20
Protesters carrying Lebanese flags gathered at the entrance of the Parliament in central Beirut [Nabil Mounzer/EPA]

Lebanese demonstrators have begun surrounding government institutions in the capital, Beirut, and other cities, as a mass protest movement demanding an overhaul of the country’s political system approaches its fourth week.

The move on Wednesday suggests a shift in the focus of protesters from blocking roads and setting up barricades to holding sit-ins at state-affiliated sites as they seek to maintain pressure on the political establishment until their demands for the departure of the ruling elite and an end to chronic economic mismanagement and corruption are met.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Beirut, said a group of protesters had arrived and gathered in front of the Ministry of Justice to call for accountability.

“They want to see the next step happening, which is the president announcing a date for consultations … for a new prime minister and a new government to be formed,” she said.

Saad Hariri last week resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister, satisfying one of the protesters’ main demands, but President Michel Aoun’s has yet to set a date – as he is obliged to – for formal consultations with legislators to pick a replacement.

Besides the justice ministry, other protest points where large sit-ins are expected on Wednesday include the ministries of energy, foreign affairs, finance, tourism, communication and labour, as well as the offices of Electricite Du Liban, the main Lebanese electricity provider.

Other state-affiliated institutions include Zaitunay Bay, a controversial marine development at the heart of Beirut’s central area and telecommunication operators.

Simultaneously, a march to “reclaim coastal public property” is also planned, according to Lara Bitar, a media worker and organiser.


Three weeks of protests

Blocking highways, main roads and intersections in Lebanon’s major cities have been the main tactic used by the leaderless protest movement, which transcends Lebanon’s traditional religious and political divides, since the demonstrations began 21 days ago.

The country had come to a standstill for about two weeks until the cabinet resigned on Tuesday, which later led to the lifting of some roadblocks and the reopening of banks.

The demonstrators, however, have not backed down, drawing criticism mainly from government supporters who accuse them of disrupting social life. 

Protesters want Hariri’s government, now in a caretaker role, to be replaced with a cabinet of independent experts who can lead Lebanon out of a deepening economic and financial crisis, secure basic services such as water and electricity and create a new, non-sectarian electoral law.

While Aoun has yet to set a date for the consultations to begin, saying he had been making the “necessary calls” to lay the ground for their launch, the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its allies who dominate the government have so far held their ground.

By resigning without any agreement in place, Hariri defied Aoun and Hezbollah, which had flat-out opposed any change in government – and analysts believe this may complicate the formation of a new government.

Source: Al Jazeera