AMMAN - Lebanese security forces clashed with protesters in Beirut trying to stop a confidence vote in parliament on the new cabinet they say does not meet their demands, and can't save Lebanon from economic disaster.
At least 150 people are reported injured in Tuesday confrontations. A chief demand of demonstrators is a government made up of technocrats who would not have sectarian affiliations. But some analysts say, like it or not, Lebanon’s sectarian system is necessary, given the tiny Mediterranean country’s diverse population that includes 18 religious sects.
Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at hundreds of Lebanese demonstrators descending on parliament, who were trying to stop a vote ushering in the new government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab. “No confidence,” they shouted, holding Lebanese flags of red and white with the iconic green cedar in the center. Some demonstrators damaged the exterior of a bank and threw rocks at police.
The parliamentary gathering comes amid a crippling economic and financial crisis — Lebanon’s worst in decades. Some protesters say that even if the new government is approved, it does not represent the majority of Lebanese who have been protesting against the political establishment since October.
Swiss-Lebanese American analyst Mark Farha says while Lebanon must tackle a severe economic problem, including corruption, he doesn’t agree with the demonstrations. He says in modern times, Lebanon’s fragile sectarian system was less pronounced before the 1975 to 1990 civil war and since has stoked divisions.
But would getting rid of sectarianism really work?
"In Lebanon, the problem is if you have a direct numeric democracy, would it really change? Would the Hezbollah voter no longer vote for Hezbollah? He still would, right?” Farha said. “Now in the current system, he or she is forced to also vote for a list Christian and a Sunni. They are forced to do alliances. In a case like Lebanon with these divisions, it might exacerbate the problem."
Professor Habib Malik of the Lebanese American University said many Lebanese in theory want to see the end of the confessional or sectarian system. He said, however, it could be the "last nail in the coffin" for some of these minorities.
"There are many drawbacks to the sectarian system in Lebanon,” Malik said. “But one advantage is that it has provided, to some degree, protection, cover and the maintenance of certain basic rights for demographically vulnerable communities."
Malik said without the rule of law and the respect of minority rights first established in Lebanon, scrapping the sectarian system won’t work.
The unprecedented wave of protests cutting across sectarian identities is demanding an end to the hereditary political elite viewed as both corrupt and incompetent. Lebanon is facing a crisis rooted in decades of state waste and corruption that has been fueling public anger.
Entrenched Shi'ite parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Lebanon may need help from the International Monetary Fund to draw up an economic rescue plan and to decide whether to pay a Eurobond, which is underwritten by several countries and matures in March.