Security forces in Lebanon began clearing roads hours after the Lebanese army issued a directive urging protesters to vacate major thoroughfares to allow life to return to normal.
The army’s statement came on Wednesday, a day after Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation and hours before a scheduled speech by President Michel Aoun.
Aoun has not yet accepted Hariri’s resignation and there is no clear solution emerging to the political crisis that has drawn warnings from Lebanon’s foreign partners.
Hariri’s announcement on Tuesday came on the back of 13 days of mass protests demanding the departure of the country’s entire political elite amid growing anger over official corruption, poor public services, and years of economic mismanagement.
Demonstrators called for a technocratic cabinet that can work on improving the deteriorating economic situation in the country.
“We will not clash with the army because they are supportive of us, therefore, we will support them as well. We hope nothing bad will happen,” said protester Rayyan Abu Ltaif.
‘Protected the people’
Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Beirut, confirmed demonstrators were cooperating with security forces and clearing roads in the city’s central districts.
“A couple of protesters lying on the street were negotiating with security forces, after which they stood up, sang the national anthem, and moved away saying they made their point.”
“It was a peaceful negotiation. This is something that the army has tried to maintain throughout these two weeks. There have been some scuffles but they have stood with and protected the people in general,” Dekker said.
Roads leading to Beirut from northern and southern Lebanon have been closed by protesters along with streets in the capital, causing a major paralysis.
Lebanese protesters celebrate Hariri resignation
Though Hariri’s resignation was a key demand of the protesters, they have been quick to point out their goal is to change the political system in its entirety.
“We are opening the roads since the military asked us to. They’ve been protecting us and serving us really nicely for the past few days,” said Perla, a protester.
“We need to give them [politicians] a day or two to act on our demands. We also need to rest as well. We are still trying to understand how to deal with this in the most peaceful, loving and respectful way.”
‘Hezbollah, critical player’
Rami Khouri, a senior public policy fellow and journalism professor at the American University of Beirut, described Hariri’s move as a “huge victory” for the protest movement and a “critical turning point”.
He added, however, the prime minister was the “weakest link” in the country’s coalition government, which grouped nearly all of Lebanon’s main parties, including Hezbollah.
“He was the low-hanging fruit who was likely to resign,” Khouri said.
“The question now is – will this trigger a process by which Hezbollah, which is the critical player in the background, as well as the president and his party … will those people agree to a technocratic government, which goes on to the next step of the demands of the protesters?”
Forming a government in Lebanon can typically take months, with every sectarian and party leader seeking to protect their own communal interests.
“There is no time for any of the old games,” said Heiko Wimmen, Lebanon project director at the International Crisis Group. “The pressure of the street – and perhaps even more so the fear of economic collapse – will dictate an accelerated government formation.”
Footage posted on social media appeared to show Hezbollah and Amal Movement party supporters clearing protest sites by force hours before Hariri’s speech on Tuesday.
They destroyed tents and other temporary infrastructure that has turned downtown Beirut into a huge encampment – hosting protests and political meetings by day, concerts and parties by night.
Well-organised demonstrators, however, swiftly cleaned up and returned to the site, occupying the main flyover again on Tuesday evening.
Iran, a major backer of Hezbollah, urged Lebanese and Iraqis who are also protesting to seek their demands through legal means.
“The people of Iraq and Lebanon have some demands that are rightful, but they should know these demands can only be realised within the legal framework of their countries,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in remarks aired on state television on Wednesday.
“When the legal structure is disrupted in a country, no action can be taken.”
Security forces in Lebanon began clearing roads hours after the Lebanese army issued a directive urging protesters to vacate major thoroughfares to allow life to return to normal. The army’s statement came on Wednesday, a day after Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation and hours before a scheduled speech by President Michel Aoun.