Lebanon (MNN) — On Tuesday, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation, which President Michel Aoun has since accepted. Hariri’s entire cabinet has resigned along with him.
Protestors who took to the streets on October 17 called for this resignation after a proposed tax on the social media platform WhatsApp. The protests have brought parts of Lebanese life to a halt. Some people are unable to travel to work while others can make it through checkpoints and cautiously continue their day-to-day activities.
Pierre Houssney, executive director of Horizons International, says Hariri’s resignation is a move in the right direction. However, Lebanon is not out of the woods yet.
Lebanon essentially has three presidents, Houssney says. The first is the president of the nation, who is always a Maronite Christian. President Michel Aoun currently holds this position. Then, there is the president of the government, or as it translates into English, the prime minister. The prime minister is in charge of the cabinet.
Finally, the third president presides over parliament and is also referred to as the speaker of parliament. This position is currently held by Nabih Berri. (Learn more about Lebanon’s government structure HERE.)
“When a prime minister resigns, the next step is that the president would appoint a new prime minister and form a new cabinet. But, that’s not exactly in-line with the demands of the protestors,” Houssney explains.
“Because the demands of the protestors are that the president himself would also resign and that the president of the parliament would resign as well, and that there would be early elections for a new parliament, which would be elected of all non-sectarian candidates, and that then they would vote to have a new president and a new prime minister and a new cabinet.”
If Lebanon’s president and speaker of parliament remain in power and choose the next prime minister, the protestors’ demands will internationally appear to be met, even though little has changed.
But this isn’t just about politics; protestors have revealed not only a desire for change, but an openness to interfaith conversations.
Finding Common Ground
Houssney says a huge wave of anti-sectarian sentiment is causing different religious groups in Lebanon to find a shared identity as Lebanese citizens. Their nationality is a bridge for deeper conversations and tolerance despite their differences in their spiritual beliefs.
“We’ve seen a lot of spiritual language being used by the protestors. A lot of Christian protestors have been using Bible verses. [They] have even been leading prayers and worship times during the protests that have been joined by Muslims,” Houssney relays.
“This is actually a very good development because there’s an acceptance of each other in that the Muslims are accepting that these Christians have their Bible and they have their Christian beliefs, and they’re also united in their same requests toward the government. And the Christians are respecting that the Muslims have their beliefs and speak their words from the Quran without it being a divider.”
Houssney emphasizes this tolerance is not an effort to join religions, dismiss the authority of the Bible, or compromise the Gospel. Instead, the acceptance of others is a good sign for the Middle East. This acceptance and coexistence opens respectful discussions.
“I believe that the Gospel is served by mutual respect because mutual respect of people as God’s children is part of the Gospel agenda. It’s not opposed to the Gospel agenda,” Houssney explains.
Lebanese Christians are not shying away from boldly proclaiming the Gospel during these protests, either. Houssney says he has watched churchgoers at the protests interviewed on TV and giving strong evangelistic messages.
“They’re being salt and light. They’re taking action politically while also giving a very…attractive way of sharing the Gospel in the midst of this political crisis,” Houssney says.
Others are rallying in prayer. Some Christians have chosen to abstain from protests, while others have chosen to provide encouragement and food to protestors. Opportunities for the Gospel continue to take place.
“We are hopeful that the openness that we’ve been seeing among Syrian refugees, to the Gospel, will also start spreading to Lebanese Christians and Muslims who have been still a little bit more resistant to the Gospel than the Syrian refugees have been,” Houssney says.
Pray for Lebanon
Pray for society to continue growing more open to the Gospel in Lebanon. Ask God to give Lebanese Christians opportunities to share His love and the work of the cross. Pray for continued tolerance and peace in Lebanon.
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“This is an extremely strategic time to be investing in Gospel proclamation in the region,” Houssney says.