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Lebanon and Iraq: PMs resign as protestors march towards political reform

Nearly a decade after the Arab Spring, hundreds of thousands of protestors flooded Lebanon and Iraq’s major cities demanding political leaders to step down.

On Oct. 29, Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation in a televised address from the Grand Serail in Beirut. His announcement came after nearly two weeks of nationwide protests. “I have tried, during this period, to find a way out, through which to listen to the voice of the people,” said Hariri. “Today, I will not hide it from you, I have reached a dead end.”
The protests were triggered by a U.S. Dollar 0.20 daily tax imposed on Oct. 17, by the government on voice over internet protocol calls, a service widely used in Lebanon due to the high cost of telecommunications. Although the government reversed the plan a few hours later, protestors remained in the streets demanding the government to step down. Analysts — such as Martin Patience of BBC — pointed out that the popularly named “WhatsApp tax” unleashed a wave of accumulated frustration regarding economic stagnation and the corruption of government officials. On Oct. 21, Hariri introduced a set of economic reforms in an unsuccessful attempt to calm the protestors.
“I went down on Saturday … it was amazing, people were singing the national anthem, there were flags everywhere, I loved it,” said Seleen Barada, Class of 2022, describing her experience on the third day of protests. The Lebanese community came together, regardless of their affiliations, in a historic moment that is redefining the future of the nation. “I’m so proud and happy that things are changing, but I’m just worried about what will happen after [Hariri] resigned,” added Barada, expressing concern over the absence of a functioning government amid the worsening financial crisis.
Protests persist for the fourth week calling for a new political system — one that transcends sectarian interests — as caretaker Hariri meets with political parties to discuss the formation of a new government. Hariri has stated his willingness to form the new government if the sects agree on appointing technocrats and implementing the reforms he has been advocating. Lebanese analysts — such as Fadi Akoum — argue that Hariri stands a high chance of being tasked with forming the new government.
On Oct. 31, President Barham Salih announced in a televised address that Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has agreed to resign if the various political parties agreed on a replacement. Salih promised early elections and asserted that a new voting law is underway. His address, however, was not well received by the crowds.
Abdul-Mahdi stepped down after nearly a month of protests. The government’s attempts at suppressing revolutionary movements turned violent, leaving more than 200 dead and thousands injured. The protests brought together Iraqis of all sects in the largest demonstration since 2003. They raged about surging unemployment, long-standing corruption and the lack of public services. The protestors blamed the political parties in power for the deteriorating state of the economy.
Although Iraq is OPEC’s second-largest oil producer, over 20 percent of the population lives under the poverty line and youth unemployment is estimated to be 25 percent. The protests against the corrupt ruling class are entering their second month as the country anticipates Abdul-Mahdi’s successor to be named.
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