Anti-government Protests Swivel to Show Lebanon’s Sectarian Divides
Fistfights broke out in Lebanon overnight between supporters and opponents of President Michel Aoun. Aoun is seen as dragging his feet in efforts to establish a new governing coalition after prime minister Saad al-Hariri tendered his and his government’s resignation on October 29 over widespread voter dissatisfaction that has largely paralyzed the country with almost daily protests. Lebanon’s power structure is based on an agreement from the 1940s that takes into account the country’s varied sectarian composition. For example, Aoun, like all Lebanese presidents, is a Maronite Christian, while Hariri and all prime ministers are Sunni Muslims. Nabih Berry, the speaker of the parliament, is, like all speakers, a Shi’ite Muslim. The arrangement has led to protracted periods of confessional unrest, including the country’s 1975-1990 civil war. The latest protests, though, which are aimed at the country’s staggering foreign debt and high taxation, as well as perceived state corruption, have largely brought people together – save for Shi’ite followers of Hizbullah and Amal, two parties that were against the fall of the government. Indeed, the fistfights that broke out on Tuesday night were mostly between Shi’ites and Maronites.