Acknowledging what he described as the “endemic corruption” that had led to the blast, which was caused by a cache of explosives that had long been housed at the port despite the risk of mass civilian casualties, Diab said on Monday that he planned to "take a step back" and "fight the battle for change" alongside those calling for government reform.
“[The political class] should have been ashamed of themselves because their corruption is what has led to this disaster that had been hidden for seven years,” Diab said.
Reports have pinned the cause of the blast to a fire that began in a warehouse near the port sometime in the early evening hours of August 4. Shortly after the blaze reached the hangar where approximately 2,750 tons of confiscated ammonium nitrate had been stored for more than a decade, a sudden, massive explosion razed a portion of the city, sending debris and shattered glass flying and causing entire buildings to crumble.
In the aftermath of the deadly blast, many have pinned the blame on a Lebanese government that has been entrenched in corruption and mismanagement ever since the country's civil war ended in 1990.
“We complained a lot about this over the years,” Yusuf Shehadi, a former port worker, recently told The Guardian of the deadly cache. “Every week, the customs people came and complained and so did the state security officers. The army kept telling them they had no other place to put this. Everyone wanted to be the boss, and no one wanted to make a real decision.”
Unrest has bloomed in Beirut in the aftermath of the port explosion, with thousands of protesters turning out to the city's Martyr Square, some armed with symbolic nooses that they said were reserved for government officials with blood on their hands.
"There's a lot of anger, a lot of rage, people are calling for revenge and justice," Al Jazeera reporter Zeina Khodr said. "They say today is about justice for the victims of Tuesday's blast. They want politicians hanged, they want politicians executed."
The resultant protests eventually saw demonstrators overtake the Lebanese economy and foreign ministry buildings, with more than 100 people injured and dozens hospitalized during the violent clashes with police that followed.
Diab's resignation comes amid mounting pressure for a shakeup of power from government elites who have long clung to it. On Saturday, before his resignation seemed certain, Diab called for early parliamentary elections to be held in the country, citing the need for "a new political elite and a new parliament." At least nine lawmakers and four ministers have already announced their own resignations, saying that they refuse to operate as a part of Lebanon's corrupt and entrenched political structures.
In his own resignation, Diab seemed to echo the sentiment. “I have discovered that corruption is bigger than the state and that the state is paralyzed by this (ruling) clique and cannot confront if or get rid of it,” he said Monday.
In addition to the civil unrest fomenting in Beirut in the wake of the explosion, Lebanon is also in the throes of a longstanding financial crisis, and has also been badly affected by infections of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Now, perhaps more than ever, calls for change across the country seem imminent.