With anti-establishment protests rocking his country, Walid Jumblatt, the longtime leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, said he supports dialogue with the protesters and the enactment of “appropriate economic reform.”
Still, Jumblatt cautioned that dissolving the government, as some protesters have demanded, could lead to the devaluation of the Lebanese pound as well as nationwide “chaos.”
“Dialogue is a must,” Jumblatt told Breitbart News. He is the president of the Progressive Socialist Party as well as leader of the country’s minority Druze population.
Earlier in the day, Jumblatt said his two Cabinet ministers would only remain in the governing coalition if it agreed to a series of economic reforms including legislation against new taxes, plans to stop overspending and an agreement not to deduct from the salaries of retirees.
Speaking to this reporter from Lebanon, Jumblatt maintained that position. “It is up to the government to listen to the grievances of the people and to go to enact appropriate reforms,” he said.
Jumblatt described the protest movement as a “spontaneous popular uprising against years of corruption and government deficiencies.”
In the largest protests Lebanon has experienced since the 2005 Cedar Revolution, hundreds of thousands of citizens flooded central Beirut as well as locations throughout the country demanding immediate government economic reform.
Many protesters reportedly carried banners calling for Prime Minister Saad Hariri to disband the government. Chants of “revolution” or “the people demand the fall of the regime” were reportedly shouted.
Hariri on Sunday agreed to a package of economic reforms after first giving his government partners a 72-hour deadline on Friday to come to terms with a reform package while hinting that he could resign if a deadlock on the issue continued. Hariri has accused rivals of blocking budgetary measures that could pave the way for much needed international financial aid.
The escalating protest movement, now in its fourth day, has so far remained peaceful. The trigger was a government announcement of new tax proposals including a tax on WhatsApp calls.
The massive protest movement seems to cross sectarian divides, targeting parties across the political spectrum. Instead of party banners, protesters reportedly largely donned the country’s national flag instead.
In a rare act of open defiance, protesters even rallied against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which is known to violently clamp down on dissent and has a stranglehold on the current Cabinet.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.