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Anti-Government Protests Continue In Lebanon


Anti-government protests continue in Beirut, Lebanon.


CORNISH: At demonstrations like these anywhere around the world, people tend to direct their anger at their leaders in charge. And that's true in Lebanon. It's actually more complicated than that. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now to talk about why.

Hey there, Daniel.


CORNISH: So you're speaking to us from Lebanon. And I want to start by just explaining Lebanon's somewhat unusual system of government. How does it work?

ESTRIN: Well, the idea is that because Lebanon has so many religious groups, they try to divvy up the power between all of them. So the rules are the president has to be a Christian Maronite. The prime minister has to be a Sunni Muslim. The speaker of Parliament has to be a Shia Muslim. It's a way to keep the peace in Lebanon, but protesters are saying that, actually, everyone is just working for the good of their own group and the good of their family.

For instance, if there's a big contract for a public project worth a lot of money, the contract tends to get handed out to companies that have ties to the leaders of political parties, and those leaders get kickbacks. And so protesters see their leaders as getting rich at their expense. And because Lebanon basically has this unity government where everyone is a part of it, everyone is now being targeted and blamed.

CORNISH: But is there any particular political figure who is kind of bearing the brunt of the criticism?

ESTRIN: Well, it's interesting because one of the chants you hear here is, all the other Arab countries around us had one dictator to topple, and here we have a hundred. That's the way the chant goes. They want everyone gone. They're singling out, I think, three of them. First of all, the foreign minister - his name is Gebran Bassil, and he is the target of this slogan.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

ESTRIN: And we are cutting it off there because the protesters say something crude about his mother. He came to office thanks to his father-in-law, who was the president. And he's had many portfolios, not just the foreign minister. One of them is being responsible for electricity, which is one of Lebanon's biggest problems. There are power cuts here every single day. Many people have to pay for generators. And he has been promising for years to fix electricity to give it 24/7 - hasn't happened yet.

There are two others. There is the 81-year-old speaker of Parliament. He's been in office for almost three decades, a very long time. And then there is the prime minister himself, who is seen as corrupt as well.

CORNISH: Can I ask about Hezbollah? That's the militant group in Lebanon. Are they included?

ESTRIN: Yes, and one chant that we're hearing is, everyone is included, including Hassan Nasrallah.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

ESTRIN: He's the head of Hezbollah. For a long time, he was seen as a religious figure separate from the government. And he is widely admired here for leading wars against Israel. But recently, Hezbollah joined Parliament and gained a lot more political power. And they are members of the same government the protesters want to topple.

CORNISH: With so many people taking to the streets, what's been the response from Lebanon's leaders?

ESTRIN: They're actually praising the protesters. They're trying to get on their side, even though they're the target of the protests. Even the Hezbollah leader is throwing his support behind protesters. And an adviser to the prime minister has told reporters that they're considering reshuffling the cabinet. That's not what the protesters want. They want totally new government. They want technocrats. And they want early elections.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin speaking to us from Beirut. Thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.