BEIRUT: “If people aren’t satisfied with any of the decent leaders, let them immigrate;” “if it is going to be (a government) of technocrats only, it will not have political cover and won’t be able to win a vote of confidence in parliament;” and a piece of advice: “Lebanon should resume normal operations, especially state institutions, or else our economy will be disrupted further,” President Michel Aoun said in a nationally televised appearance.
This is but a glimpse of what negatively resonated with Lebanese demonstrators listening to Aoun’s interview Tuesday night. Following the interview, his office released a statement explaining that his comments were taken out of context.
"What the president actually meant was that if there are no honest individuals in the movement, let them immigrate because they won't get to power," the office tweeted.
After 27 days of protests, Aoun tried reassuring demonstrators that a new government would be formed shortly and that the new government will make sure to implement the required reforms.
Nonetheless, the show of good faith Aoun asked from the demonstrators was met with the exact opposite. They considered the interview “provocative” and described it as a major disappointment. Some also considered it disrespectful to the demands of the people.
"As provocative as our President’s speech might have sounded, his words only triggered me to fight harder for my rights as a Lebanese citizen," Lina Assaf, a high school teacher protesting, told Annahar.
Ashraf Jammal, like many other Lebanese who were forced to immigrate in search of a better tomorrow, lambasted the President's "insensitive comments."
"I came back to Lebanon from France 5 years ago after earning my MBA because I wanted to help make my country better. Even though the president believes that protesters who are displeased with the government should immigrate, I want to say that I will not leave Lebanese grounds before my nation begins to thrive again," he told Annahar.
Protesters blocked major roads including: Ring Bridge, Zalka, Zouk, Jal el-Dib, Sidon, Tripoli, Corniche al Mazra’a and Chevrolet among others.
“I'm here protesting for the 27th day in a row because the government is ignoring our demands. Our president's latest words only proved that the Lebanese people are being disrespected and ignored, and I won't leave these streets before we are treated with basic human decency," Linda el Ghali said.
Aside from the streets, social media also flooded with people’s reaction to President Aoun’s interview.
"Our president just told the Lebanese people 'whoever is not happy should leave Lebanon.' Before he even finished his interview, the people in the streets responded: No, you leave. The coastal highway is literally being blocked entirely," Mhamad Charaf tweeted.
MP Paula Yacoubian was also among those was also taken aback by Aoun's comments. She invited schools, universities, banks, and public and private institutions for a general strike on Wednesday and tweeted: “If you’re not okay with the Lebanese demanding their basic human rights, you’re the one that can immigrate.”
Nessryn Khalaf contributed to this report.
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