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Popular Protests Tear Apart ‘Strong Lebanon’ Bloc

Popular Protests Tear Apart ‘Strong Lebanon’ Bloc

Sunday, 27 October, 2019 - 06:45
Protesters wearing ponchos and draped with the Lebanese national flag stand under the rain in Zouk Mosbeh, north of the capital Beirut. (AFP)

The unprecedented anti-government protests in Lebanon have compounded the disputes within the Strong Lebanon parliamentary bloc, headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

In recent days, MPs Shamel Roukoz and Neemat Frem have made statements that contradict those of the bloc, signaling the possibility that they may be stepping down from the alliance.

Since October 17, Lebanon has been swept up in anti-government protests that have been demanding the resignation of the country’s entire political elite, who are accused of corruption and poor policies that have led the country on the edge of economic collapse. The people have vented their frustration against President Michel Aoun, his son-in-law Bassil, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, pleading with him to resign.

The protests have been unprecedented because they have brought together people from across the country, overcoming political and sectarian divides that have plagued Lebanon since the days of the 1975-90 civil war.

Over a million people have taken to the streets to demand change, but, as of Sunday, no official has yet offered to resign. On Monday, Hariri presented a reform package, which did little to appease the public.

Roukoz and Frem have stated in recent days that the government must resign to meet the demands of the people. Their remarks go against their Free Patriotic Movement and President Aoun.

Roukoz, another son-in-law of the president, has been boycotting Strong Lebanon meetings for months since the bloc approved the 2019 budget, which targeted the rights of retired officers. Roukoz is a retired officer himself.

The MP had recently hosted a meeting of former FPM members, which could be interpreted as the beginning of a new phase of confrontation with the movement’s leader, Bassil.

On Saturday, Roukoz stated that some officials within Aoun’s entourage were “negatively” affecting him. “Everyone must listen to the demands of the people,” he declared.

Frem took one step further in breaking away from the bloc, by joining the anti-government protests in the Keserouan region.

“The Strong Lebanon bloc could not ensure the success of the president’s term,” he was quoted as saying. He also noted that the economic package proposed by the PM was not enough to salvage the situation and that government change was necessary.

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