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Lebanese president calls for an end to allocation of government posts by religion

Lebanese President Michel Aoun addressed the nation on the third anniversary of his presidency from the presidential palace in Baabda on October 31.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun addressed the nation on the third anniversary of his presidency from the presidential palace in Baabda on October 31. AFP PHOTO/HO/DALATI AND NOHRA

Prompted by weeks of popular protests, Lebanon's President Michel Aoun called Thursday for the establishment of a technocratic government and an end to the country's custom of allocating political offices along religious lines.

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Currently, the prime minister must be a Sunni while the president must be a Maronite Christian and the speaker of parliament a Shiite, according to an unwritten power-sharing deal established in 1943 known as the National Pact.

Aoun pledged to move away from the sectarian-based political system to a civil state, 
calling sectarianism a "destructive disease".

Aoun also said the country's next cabinet should include ministers selected for their skills, not their political affiliation, seemingly endorsing the demand by a two-week-old protest movement for a technocratic government.

"Ministers should be selected based on their qualifications and experience, not their political loyalties," Aoun said in his speech, which came on the third anniversary of his presidency.

 

Protesters have called for both a technocratic government and an end to the sectarian system wherein posts are allocated according to religion.

Prime Minster Saad Hariri on Tuesday submitted the resignation of his cabinet, but Aoun asked him to stay on in a caretaking capacity until a new cabinet could be formed. 

Lebanese banks will resume normal operations and receive customers on Friday, the banking association said, ending a two-week-long closure caused by massive protests against the country’s ruling politicians.

‘More people out in the streets’

Aoun’s speech was met with disdain by demonstrators in central Beirut who, in response to his words, chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab uprisings: "The people demand the fall of the regime."

Reporting from Beirut, FRANCE 24’s correspondent Leila Molana-Allen said that following the prime minister’s resignation, “There have been great efforts made to make out that there’s a return to normality here across Lebanon … but from last night we saw large protests again, they’ve carried on through the day today and immediately after [Aoun’s] speech there have been many more people coming out into the street.”

“The young people I’ve spoken to have told me that: ‘What he said it doesn’t matter, we don’t believe him, and even if we did, we don’t believe in him, these are just big words. We have given the government 48 hours, this was an ultimatum … and we haven’t heard any real answers, any real solutions – we’re taking back to the streets’.”

Sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on free calls made through messaging apps such as WhatsApp, the protests have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilisation against an entire political class that has remained largely unchanged since the end of the country's 1975-1990 civil war. 

Hariri last week sought to defuse popular anger through a set of reform measures agreed with other groups in his coalition government, including Hezbollah, to tackle corruption and long-delayed economic reforms.

But with no immediate steps taken towards enacting these reforms his promises did not satisfy demonstrators.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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