Hariri’s reforms won’t stem Lebanon protests: Experts

ANKARA 

Despite its many good points, a reform package unveiled by Lebanon’s prime minister is unlikely to defuse the ongoing tensions or satisfy protesters, two local analysts agreed.

On Monday, the government of Saad Hariri approved a package of economic reforms in an attempt to quell mass protests and growing anger against his cabinet.

The plan includes steps to cut Lebanon’s huge deficit by slashing salaries of politicians by half and giving financial help to families in poverty.

But Lebanese political analyst Moufed Mostafa believes that the measures will not end the anti-government protests.

“The main problem is that the people have lost confidence in this government and in this political elite, which came to power after the assassination of [former Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri in 2004,” he said.

“In light of the deteriorating economic and financial situation in the country, the Lebanese will not be satisfied until they see a real change and new faces in the government,” he said.

Mass protests erupted across Lebanon on Thursday against plans to tax calls on Whatsapp and other messaging services.

The demonstrations turned into wider grievances with calls for removal of the Lebanese government and bringing corrupt officials to accountability.

The unrest has caused cracks in Hariri’s government with four ministers of the Christian Lebanese Forces party resigning.

Lebanon suffers from high unemployment, little growth and one of the highest debts ratios in the world, with a debt burden reaching $86.2 billion in the first quarter of 2019, according to a statement by the Lebanese Ministry of Finance in May 2019.

On Monday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for lifting banking secrecy from all current and future ministers.

Unreliable

Mostafa opines that the reform plan will fail to calm the protesters’ anger.

“This plan was only drawn up in the past 48 hours, while the people have been waiting for reform for the past 15 years,” he said.

He noted that Hariri’s reform plan lacks a clear timetable, making it “unreliable as it will give the political elite an opportunity to overcome the current crisis and expand their powers”.

Lebanese journalist Emad Chidiac, for his part, said the reform plan contained “nothing new”.

“Most of the points in the reform package were submitted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but the government failed to abide by these demands,” he said.

“If they were able to come up with these reforms, why didn’t they do so from the very beginning before the protests broke out,” he asked.

Chidiac believes that the anti-government protests will continue despite Hariri’s reform plan.

“It seems that protesters are determined to crown their protests with an achievement and this can only be achieved with the government’s resignation,” he said.
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