After the devastating disaster in Beirut, the city’s port and surrounding residential areas lie in ruins while 300,000 people have been made homeless. Since the weekend, tens of thousands of Lebanese have been protesting against their government. This is nothing new. There were large protests against the political leadership already last autumn and in spring 2020.
Transparency and investigation
The most important thing for the protesters is that the events surrounding the disaster are properly investigated. These events raise many questions that must be investigated quickly and transparently. The people of Beirut have a right to know how this disaster came about. Only if the government faces up to its responsibility, acts transparently and is accountable can the population regain trust.
Lebanon is in the throes of the most serious economic crisis in its history. Its currency is in free fall. People do not know how to pay their rent or buy food. The COVID‑19 pandemic has also had a firm grip on the country recently, further exacerbating its economic crisis.
Lebanon therefore urgently needs far‑reaching reforms to its economic and financial sectors. This requires, among other things, transparency vis‑à‑vis the International Monetary Fund, e.g. about the actual extent of the losses faced by the Lebanese financial system. The Federal Government believes that this is also the basis for further essential international economic and financial assistance.
Politicians serving the people
Corruption is commonplace in Lebanon and there is hardly any state support. There is neither a functioning public medical infrastructure nor a public transport system. In Beirut, electricity from the public grid is only available for a few hours each day. Those who want to have power all day long require private generators. The demonstrators are calling for tough action against corruption and for politicians to take the needs of the entire population into account.
Reforming the political system
The demonstrators are also calling for the system of proportional representation based on religion to be reformed. In this system, the top political offices are distributed according to membership of denominational groups – the President is always Christian, the Speaker of the Parliament Shiite and the Prime Minister Sunni. From the point of view of many Lebanese, the system is exploited to give an advantage to members of one’s own group. The objective of taking all social groups into account is right and proper. The situation in Lebanon has developed since the end of the civil war in the early 1990s, however. It is therefore up to the Lebanese people to find a model that takes the social composition of the country into account but which does not encourage mismanagement or corruption.
Foreign Minister Maas had the following to say about this prior to the virtual donor conference:
Without urgently needed reforms, there can be neither long‑term change nor stability. This is precisely what the Lebanese people are rightly calling for. Individual interests and old lines of conflict must be overcome and the well‑being of the entire population must come first.