After 100 days of rage, Lebanon has a new government – and a deepening crisis

Nour Fakih was at his office desk on a Thursday afternoon in October when he sent his friend Abed a prescient WhatsApp message. “Abed, should we call for a revolution, bro?” “Yeah bro, but we keep forgetting to do that. Save it as a reminder,” came the snarky response.
Hours later, plumes of black smoke billowed over Beirut’s skyline. Barricades of burning car tires cut through most of the capital’s main roads and highways. Travelers arriving at Rafik el-Hariri International Airport carted suitcases past throngs of angry protesters. Breaking news bulletins screamed through radios as drivers careened through the apocalyptic scenes.
“I remember going down to the streets that night and thinking ‘oh my, God. It’s actually happening,'” Fakih, 28, said, recalling the events of October 17 when Lebanon’s anti-corruption protests kicked off.
The government is also a third smaller than the previous one led by Saad Hariri, who resigned as prime minister less than two weeks after the protests began.
At the outset, the new government formation would seem to help satisfy the demands for change. In Diab’s inaugural speech, he hailed his new government as a “victory” for protesters.
But the protests — which recently escalated to riots — pressed on. A day after the announcement, scores were injured in clashes between protesters and security forces, as demonstrations spread from central Beirut to the outskirts of the city.
To many in Lebanon, the new government is too little, too late for a country mired in its worst economic crisis since its 15-year civil war. The country is buckling under a severe liquidity crisis, with informal and irregular capital controls being imposed across its banking sector. Layoffs and salary cuts are rampant. Fuel supplies have been interrupted, and food prices are soaring. Experts predict that the country could soon, and for the first time ever, default on its ballooning debt.
Despite being made up of largely independent ministers, the new cabinet is backed by a coalition of traditional sectarian parties, including the Iran-backed political and militant group Hezbollah. That coalition constitutes a parliamentary majority, voted in during elections in May 2018.
Like sectarian parties in Hariri’s US-backed coalition, the coalition that backs the current cabinet is being held responsible for years of widespread corruption and mismanagement that culminated in the current crisis.
“Sectarian political parties cannot resolve problems that they themselves created,” said Rania Masri, a university professor and member of the secular political party Citizens in a State.
“What is happening in the country is a complete economic breakdown and their actions in forming a government in the manner in which they’ve formed it … shows that they’re the ones that are divorced from reality.”