BEIRUT - Supporters of Lebanon’s embattled President Michel Aoun gathered outside the presidential palace in Beirut, while anti-government protesters continued to press demands outside parliament for the political elite to step down and an end to traditional sectarian politics. It is still unclear what Lebanon's new government will look like and whether it will contain independent members, as demanded by demonstrators.
Draped in red, green, and white Lebanese flags and waving orange banners of President Michel Aoun’s political party, thousands of his mainly-Christian supporters swamped a Beirut knoll near the presidential palace to counter mounting opposition to his government. A 21-year-old university student named Corinne says she came to show that she stands with Aoun. She envisions Lebanon accepting Saad Hariri again as an interim prime minister, a post traditionally held by Sunni Muslims.
"My president has been working for so long to get our rights back and is being attacked by several politicians in Lebanon who are responsible for the corruption here. Lebanon is a very divided society and sectarianism runs in the people. In order to please, especially the Sunnis in Lebanon, Saad Hariri will likely have the post, but hopefully with the president’s certain rules and regulations."
But that’s exactly what those leading three weeks of massive countrywide protests do not want — a return of Hariri in any capacity. Despite trying to appease protesters by halving the salaries of government ministers and promising to reform Lebanon’s dilapidated telecom and energy sectors, Hariri was forced to resign last Tuesday.
Another university student, Tarek Serhan, from south Lebanon, says the way Aoun and Hariri have been running the country along sectarian lines doesn’t work anymore. He and other opposition protesters want trusted judges to oversee the government transformation process.
"They are still talking about sectarianism: 'I will give you this, and you will give me this.' We’re talking a different language. We don’t trust them. We don’t believe they will do something. That’s why we want the government of independent experts to work and save this country. Without any independent judicial system, we won’t be able to change."
Demonstrators demand a new technocrat-led government capable of carrying out badly needed economic reforms, but it is still unclear what a future government may look like. Lebanon's economy has stagnated in recent years and is expected to show slight negative growth for 2019 after barely registering any gains in recent years.