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Lebanon FM Gebran Bassil on protests, corruption and reforms

Lebanon’s foreign minister discusses corruption, his role in government and how to address protesters’ demands.

Lebanon has been engulfed by nationwide anti-government protests which began in October.

People are demanding an end to corruption, a change in the political system and better management of the economy. As a result, Prime Minister Saad Hariri handed in his resignation in late October.

But protesters say that is not enough and have been calling for a complete overhaul of Lebanon‘s political system – and its sect-based power-sharing agreement.

And as people chant in the streets against politicians, the one name that seems to be singled out often is Gebran Bassil, Lebanon’s foreign minister.

Bassil is President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law and has previously held other ministerial positions without being an elected member of parliament.

Many consider him to be one of the most divisive figures in their country.

But Bassil says protesters are wrong to single him out and stresses that “the priority is to save the country”.

“We are paying the price of 30 years of wrong policies and corruption … The country is at the verge of collapsing … Our economy has all the ingredients to rise up again. This is the priority right now. And later on, justice will prevail, truth will be apparent to everybody,” he says.

“Lebanon is a country that is worth to survive. It is a model of diversity, pluralism and tolerance that is worth to preserve. We need Lebanon to be on its feet again to be that model of co-existence. If Lebanon vanishes it can only see extremism and terrorism in our region. So it’s worth fighting for.”

Bassil believes that the one thing Lebanon needs is an efficient government.

“We have a failed system but we don’t want to have a failed state. The only salvation for Lebanon is a civil state. We are not there yet unfortunately, but we will fight for this first.”

He explains that they are working on a series of anti-corruption laws and believes that “with the people rising we have an exceptional opportunity to pass these laws”.

“This (the fight against corruption) is what’s uniting us despite our political and religious differences. So we should seize the opportunity and unite all together,” says Bassil.

“The republic is in danger,” he warns. “Lebanon is a country that is paying for the mistakes of everybody around us. And we are paying a lot, but I think Lebanon should be saved by its friends. And the first thing to do is to stop the external interventions in our country, and not to allow the Lebanese to intervene in others’ affairs.”

At the 2019 Doha Forum, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil, talks to Al Jazeera about the uprising, the challenges facing Lebanon, his role in government, corruption and the best way to address the protesters’ demands.