Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian has called for the formation of a new emergency government of technical experts, urging authorities to meet demonstrators’ demands, as a mass protest movement calling for an overhaul of the country’s political system approaches its fourth week.
“The time has come and is opportune, after this national wake-up call, for the reform process to begin and for those in power to form an emergency national government made up of competent people, without delay to immediately proceed with carrying out the reform package prepared by (caretaker) Prime Minister (Saad) Hariri to solve the country’s problems,” Derian said in his message to the nation on the eve of the birthday anniversary of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on Saturday.
He added, “The time has come to meet the people’s demands and the national free will that transcends sects, political parties and regions, after the people’s movement managed to unite Lebanese on the right path and gather them in one square, the nation’s square.”
“The time has come for the people to take back their trust in the state and its constitutional and administrative institutions. The time has come to respect the principles and standards of democracy,” Lebanon’s grand mufti pointed out.
Back on October 21, Hariri said his cabinet had approved a raft of economic reforms, including halving ministers’ wages, and agreed on the next year’s budget in a bid to tackle the fiscal crisis in the cash-strapped country.
Speaking at a press conference at Baabda Palace near the capital Beirut, Hariri said among the most important reforms was the approval of the 2020 state budget envisaging a deficit of 0.6 percent.
The government also agreed not to impose new taxes on citizens, with the central bank and financial institution set to participate in the deficit-reduction through an amount of 5.1 trillion Lebanese pounds ($3.4 billion), the Lebanese prime minister noted.
Hariri submitted his resignation to President Michel Aoun on October 29.
Under the constitution, Hariri’s cabinet would stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed.
The protests began on October 17 when the government proposed imposing a tax on Whatsapp calls, along with other austerity measures.
Protesters in Lebanon have stopped blocking roads and setting up barricades, and instead shifted to holding sit-ins at state-affiliated sites.
They say they will maintain pressure on the political establishment until their demands for the departure of the ruling elite and an end to chronic economic mismanagement and corruption are met.
Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of endless political deadlocks and an economic crisis in recent years.
The country hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and their presence is often blamed for putting pressure on the already struggling economy.
Unemployment stands at more than 20 percent, according to official figures.
The Lebanon’s Finance Ministry says the national debt is hovering around $85 billion, which accounts for more than 150 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Successive governments have failed to address a waste management crisis or improve the electricity grid, which is plagued by daily power cuts.