“In my personal opinion, some of the solutions (to protests) could be: The resignation of government officials that have caused disturbance in the country since the 1990s with properly taking them to trial, as well as those proven to be convicted with corruption,” Mohammad Kleit told Tasnim.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Tasnim: Since October 17, the Lebanese in Beirut and other cities have been taking to the streets to express their strong discontent with the government’s failure to find solutions to the country’s economic crisis. What are the main reasons behind the ongoing anti-government demonstrations?
Kleit: The causes of the demonstrations go back to the 1950s when the political turmoil started in Lebanon between different political factions that caused the civil war, which in turn made the country a cake that sectarian militia commanders and political leaders cut into their own favor and to protect their interests, whether personal or sectarian-based. The system that was formed after the end of the civil war in 1990 was economically corrupt and based on a Capitalist economic system, which led to the sucking of the money out of the people without providing proper services in return, such as electrical current, water flow for houses, public transportation, fixing roads (only 5% of roads in Lebanon are fit for driving), and other related issues.
In addition to that, the banks, headed by the Central Bank, which has been governed by Riad Salame since 1993, that have benefited a lot from the political system to make huge profits, have increased the national debt of Lebanon to almost $103 billion, which in turn increased general life expenses, while wages remained low. (Beirut is one of the most expensive Arab cities). It’s also worthy to mention that the US has issued some sanctions on some Lebanese figures and banks that it claims support Hezbollah, which the US considers a “terrorist” group, while they have been formed in 1982 as a resistance faction against the Israeli occupation and became part of Lebanese politics in 1996.
The economic crisis that debuted in recent months has led the government to take austerity measures on the expense of the people’s money, not its own, while avoiding to fight the corruption of banks, major businessmen, and politicians (present and former). On the 17th of October, the government proposed a set of decrees to place in the 2020’s national budget, which included more taxes on fuel oil, communication (a tax on WhatsApp calls), and others… this has caused an outrage amongst the public who took to the streets to protest against the deteriorating economy, corrupt politicians, and Central Bank policies.
Tasnim: Can you please name some of the main achievements of the protests so far?
Kleit: One of the main achievements the protests have made was breaking the long-run sectarian and geographic segregation and psychological barriers that were the remnants of the civil war and stressed by political leaders to keep their crowds under control, by installing fear of “the others”. One good example that the Lebanese have witnessed in the first week of the protests is the solidarity signs from people in predominantly Sunni city in northern Lebanon, Tripoli, to their fellow citizens in the predominantly Shiite cities in southern Lebanon, Nabatieh and Tyre, and vice versa.
Tasnim: How do think the unrest could be handled?
Kleit: In my personal opinion, some of the solutions could be:
- The resignation of government officials that have caused disturbance in the country since the 90s with properly taking them to trial, as well as those proven to be convicted with corruption
- The resignation of the Central Bank governor and taking him to court for damaging the economy while abiding by a foreign country’s sanctions (The US)
- The substitution and accountability of major figures that are suspected in corruption, such as head of Middle East Airways Mohamad al Hout, Central Bank governor Riad Salame, and others…
- Making bids from public contractors rather than the government appointing influential ones in secret
- The placement of law of illegal income
- The cancellation of all “minister of state” positions
- Cancellation of unnecessary expenditure for politicians such as cutting wages to half and decreasing the number of delegations abroad
- A dependence on the Lebanese currency, not the US dollar to strengthen the economy and the exchange rates
- High taxes on illegally privatized public spaces, especially those placed on public beaches
- Closure of railway administration since the sector disappeared in the 80s in Lebanon due to the war and never opened again
- Changing the Civil Service Council and Internal Inspection Administrations to revive their monitoring role of public service