The Lebanese have embarked on the second week of their historic uprising against their ruling class. What started as a spontaneous demonstration against a now-canceled taxation plan grew into nationwide protests, with hundreds of thousands calling for concrete change and serious reform, starting with the resignation of the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Over the past week, the country's Lebanese Forces parliamentary bloc requested that its four ministers in government submit their resignation, while PM Hariri announced a reform plan that protesters have widely criticized. On Thursday, President Michel Aoun addressed the nation on television for the first time, yet he failed to quell protests.
People in Lebanon and across the globe have been closely following the ongoing manifestations, with social media platforms buzzing with news and political commentary on one hand, and jokes and memes on the other. The past week has also witnessed the spread of some false information.
Many legal questions arise from the current situation. In an attempt to set the records straight, here are the answers to 7 relevant questions:
1. Under what circumstances is the government considered resigned?
Earlier this week, social media users shared a post claiming the constitution obliges the cabinet to resign after eight days of mass protests. However, there is no such provision in the entire constitution. Legally speaking, protests do not automatically lead to the dismissal of the cabinet, regardless of how long they last.
Article 69 lays down the circumstances under which the government shall be considered resigned:
- if the prime minister resigns
- if it loses more than a third of the members specified in the decree of its formation
- if the prime minister dies
- at the beginning of the term of the president of the republic
- at the beginning of the term of the parliament
- when it loses the confidence of the parliament based on the chamber's initiative or based on the cabinet's initiative to seek confidence
2. What happens if the cabinet resigns?
When the cabinet resigns or is considered resigned, parliament convenes until a new cabinet is formed and gains confidence, according to Article 69 of the constitution.
Until the new cabinet officially assumes its responsibilities, the resigned cabinet is required to remain in a state of caretaker and maintain the continuity of public affairs.
3. Can parliament take action?
As per articles 37 and 68 of the constitution, every member of parliament is entitled to raise the question of no-confidence in the government during ordinary or extraordinary sessions. When the parliament passes a vote of "no confidence" in a minister, that minister shall be required to resign.
Meanwhile, articles 70 and 71 lay down the grounds for impeaching the prime minister and his cabinet: "The Chamber of Deputies has the right to impeach the Prime Minister and Ministers for high treason or for breach of their duties. The decision to impeach may not be taken except by a two-thirds majority of the total members of the Chamber."
The impeached prime minister or minister shall be tried by the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers.
4. What about the president?
The president is not authorized to single-handedly dissolve the cabinet. He may only dismiss a minister in agreement with the prime minister and after gaining the approval of two-thirds of the cabinet.
The president may also decide to resign himself, leading to the election of a new president. The current cabinet would be considered resigned at the beginning of the latter's term.
5. What's at stake if soldiers defy the orders of their superiors?
Security forces have been making headlines over the past week, either for using force against protesters or for protecting them and showing compassion. While the movement has been widely peaceful and even festive at times, it has witnessed a few clashes between protesters and security personnel. Protesters have been targeted with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, and many unarmed individuals have reported being arbitrarily beaten up and arrested by police and Lebanese Army personnel.
Supporters of the Lebanese Army insist that soldiers are not to blame for using violence, as the former simply obey the orders of their superiors.
As per article 152 of the law pertaining to the military judiciary, soldiers face a prison sentence ranging from six months to two years for refusing to obey their respective superiors or executing the latter's commands, unless force majeure conditions prevent them from obeying said orders.
6. How "free" is freedom of speech?
The protests have witnessed a great deal of swear words or jokes addressing politicians (Does "hela hela hela ho..." ring a bell?) So, it is crucial to take note of where the law stands on the matter.
Article 13 of the constitution protects one's freedom to express an opinion "within the limits established by law." Such limits are stipulated in the Lebanese Penal Code.
Articles 383 to 389 of the penal code criminalize slander or defamation of public officials. Derogatory expressions directly targeting ministers, through writing, drawing or phone calls, are punishable by a prison sentence of up to six months. Meanwhile, derogatory expressions targeting the president are punishable by a prison sentence ranging from six months to two years.
7. Can employers take action against employees attending the protest?
According to a comprehensive study by the Legal Agenda, an employer in the private sector is not entitled to dismiss an employee for partaking in a protest, which is considered a constitutional right and a means of exercising civil rights and patriotic duties.
However, the employer may reduce the employee's salary, with the reduction calculated strictly based on the amount of time spent away from work.
Side note: Lawyers are offering free legal counsel
Lawyers have announced they are offering free legal counsel to protesters in case of arrest. People are advised to write lawyers' phone numbers on their hands/arms in case their phones are lost, broken, or confiscated.
Lebanese Center For Human Rights (CLDH): +961 76 329319
Lawyers' Committee to Defend Protesters: +961 78 935579