POST TIME: 3 November, 2019 00:00 00 AM
Two govts toppled in 3 days, but fight is only beginning
CNN, Beirut, Lebanon

Two govts toppled in 3 days, but fight is only beginning

Lebanese protesters sit on the ground to block a venue during ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Lebanon's southern city of Sidon (Saida) on Friday. AFP photo

For weeks, loud and angry demands reverberated across Iraq and Lebanon, rattling their political leadership. Elites publicly acknowledged the popular indictment against them, and serious political concessions appeared inevitable. It signaled a shaking up of the powers that be that would’ve been unimaginable even a month ago.

Then, in the span of just three days this week, governments in Iraq and Lebanon have agreed to resign. Protesters have rejoiced, but many also recognize that a long and complicated road lies ahead.

Unlike much of the Arab world, Iraq and Lebanon are not ruled by autocrats, and a change in government rarely spurs a shift in domestic policies. Instead, demonstrators say these countries are governed by democratically-elected kleptocracies, with the political elite deeply entrenched thanks to convoluted sectarian power-sharing systems. In both cases, protesters face the formidable task of changing entire political systems, and not just their cabinets, to tackle their grievances.

This became clear in Lebanon when, no more than 24 hours after resigning as prime minister, Saad Hariri was already emerging as a favorite for the same post. In Iraq, Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi’s resignation will be effective only when a successor is found.

“To the Iraqi protesters, the resignation (of Abdul Mahdi) in some parts is a welcome move in terms of the protests yielding some sort of result,” said Amnesty International’s Iraq researcher Razaw Salihy. “But it’s nowhere near enough in terms of the demands that protesters have.”

“(These are) not only the resignation, but also that everybody in government be held accountable for long-standing human rights violations as well as ... very deep corruption in government,” said Salihy.

In an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson, Interior Minister for Lebanon’s caretaker government and Hariri ally, Raya al-Hassan, also acknowledged the Lebanese government’s resignation as only “a partial victory.”

“I think this is a portion of what they were demanding,” Hassan said. “Definitely we need a clean government. The protesters have set the bar very high for us, so we cannot anymore try to weasel our way out of that commitment.”

But even if politicians have sincerely committed themselves to eradicating corruption—and there is a deep distrust among protesters about this—the circumstances may prove intractable.