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Lebanese Government Resigns In Response To Protests Over Explosion In Beirut

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Lebanon's prime minister Hassan Diab announced today that his cabinet is resigning. Protests have filled the streets of Beirut after last Tuesday's explosion at the city's port. More than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded. The blast killed at least 150 people, injured thousands and damaged buildings across the city. To talk about what's next for Lebanon, we are joined by Gino Raidy, a blogger who writes about Lebanon. And he joins us today from New York.

Welcome.

GINO RAIDY: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Does this mass resignation look to you like a sign of progress?

RAIDY: To be very honest, the cabinet of Hassan Diab, for most Lebanese people and the diaspora worldwide, wasn't really there. And we could really see that after the blast last week when the government was completely absent on the ground. It was the people that took charge of the search and rescue, the relief effort, fundraising and even campaigning everywhere. So honestly, it was just a blip on our radar because Hassan Diab government was, you know, just a front. It was never really present.

SHAPIRO: So if replacing the entire government is not a solution to the problem, what is?

RAIDY: The solution - the cabinet is basically a front for the political leaders that have been ruling Lebanon for the past 30 years, which the Lebanese people rose up against last October and are still rising up against. So the solution - the cabinet is just one minor problem. The next step is the parliament. The president and the speaker of parliament with a transitional period that can generate an electoral law that's fair and representative so we can regenerate the entire system in Lebanon, which is the reason - basically, the explosion was the cherry on top.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

RAIDY: Lebanon was already in extremely bad shape even before this blast.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about that. I mean, as you say, people were protesting long before this explosion. Lebanon was in such bad shape that in fact, this prime minister has only been in power for less than a year after another mass government resignation. What are some of these underlying issues you're talking about?

RAIDY: Sure. So ever since the Civil War ended at the end of the '90s, the same political leaders have been in control of Lebanon this whole time. So the level of corruption reached a point where basically, all the money in the bank is gone because the banks lended (ph) it to the government. So that - on top of the revolution that started October, on top of the coronavirus pandemic and the hyperinflation in Lebanon, which is up 80% in less than a year, this blast couldn't come at a worse time.

So a cabinet that was - that basically was formed only to try to defuse the anger that started in 2019 was just a front for the actual leader. So after the blast now, there is no way forward for this political class in Lebanon unless aid - foreign aid comes in because that has been their saving - the saving grace for them over the past 30 years, whether after a war happens or a natural disaster. Funds funnel in, and they go into their pockets instead of going into infrastructure and other things. As you know, Beirut is drenched in...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

RAIDY: ...Toxins (ph) now. Most of our hospitals are destroyed. So...

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, are you at all hopeful that the kind of deep-seated change you're calling for could take place?

RAIDY: Yes. I am positive, and Lebanese all over the world are positive that the change can happen, especially after this blast because this blast - you know, any chance this government and this system had is gone. The only way that they could survive is if international aid and support goes via the government in Lebanon because they would be...

SHAPIRO: OK.

RAIDY: ...Misappropriated and stolen as usual. And...

SHAPIRO: All right.

RAIDY: ...If that doesn't happen, I am certain change is coming. There is no way to escape it anymore.

SHAPIRO: Gino Raidy writes about Lebanon on Gino's Blog: Everything You Love And Hate About Beirut. Thank you for joining us.

RAIDY: Thank you so much, Ari. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.