Since 17th October 2019, the Lebanese citizens of all districts have occupied the streets demanding that their voices should be heard. What was once considered the “Switzerland of the East”, is now undergoing a nationwide “revolution”.
For the first time in centuries, Lebanese citizens of different religions stand united for a common cause: to remove the corrupt politicians from their positions. However, even though many citizens are with the revolution, others still leach on to their different beliefs.
The protest may be taking place in 2019, however, the reasons behind the tension Lebanon is living right now goes way back. The country continues to suffer from long-running shortages in government-provided electricity and water. since 1975, It has not had stable, 24-hour electricity; the power rationing is eight hours per day all across the nation.
This has forced the people to make deals with the country’s “electric generators mafia”, which operates a ring of contraband gasoline power generators that contribute to the high level of air pollution observed in Lebanese cities. As for the water, ever since the country’s civil war, Lebanese people had no access to drinkable water outside of procuring them from private companies. Moreover, a shortage of usable water is always to be expected during the summer. However, it all boils down to the origins of the country’s sectarian political system following the Taif agreement.
Thirty years ago, Lebanese Civil War-era sectarian warlords have exploited the idea of Lebanon containing various religious factions. Thus, they created a system that enshrines a sect-based political system, where political authority is allocated based on the religious affiliation of the public servant and not their skills or qualification. this means that the governmental sects have to be divided according to the following: four Muslim sects, 12 Christian sects, a Druze sect, and a Judaism one.
On the other hand, the outbreak of the protests was accredited to the accumulated crisis within the preceding weeks in Lebanon. Days before the protests began, Lebanon was literally burning down. Unprecedented wide fires broke in Chouf, Saadiyat, and other places. The fire burned down some houses and even took a volunteer’s life, all while the Lebanese government failed to employ its planes to extinguish the fires. It was left up to the people, NGOs, and Cypriotic aid to put out the fires.
Besides, the final straw was when the government proposed strategies to increase state revenue for 2020 as a short term solution for the economic crisis looming on the horizon. There were 36 items to be discussed during that session, including the increase of Value Added Tax (VAT) by 2% by 2021 and an additional 2% by 2022, making it reach a total of 15%. the media reported that there were plans of a USD 0.20 charge on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls, such as ones made on Facebook and WhatsApp.
Add to all that, the sanitation and sewage infrastructure problems that continue to cause pollution and spread diseases, the increasing unemployment numbers that reached 37% unemployed youth and 25%, unemployed Lebanese citizens, in general as of August 2019, large debt load and stagnant growth that has made the country unable to maintain the Lebanese pound’s peg to the U.S. dollar and the overall general corruption in the governmental circles.
What first started as a handful of people expressing their anger on the streets of downtown Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square on October 17, now turned into a nationwide revolution. Because of Lebanon’s multi-religious nature, demands vary. However, there are a series of primary demands that have resonated among the vast majority of protesters.
The most important one is the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s cabinet, insisting that it should be replaced with a downsized and independent technocratic government. Additionally, the protestors called for early parliamentary elections with a new electoral law that is not based on sectarian proportionality. Last but not least, They have called for an independent investigation into stolen and misappropriated public funds.
There have also been calls for the resignation of other top officials, including Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun, as well as calls for the direct election of the president, who is currently selected by Parliament.
Even though the first days of the revolution showed an unprecedented unity between the people, as the day passed other voices and opinions started to emerge. The protesters’ main chants were “kilon yaani kilon” which roughly translates to every single one of them; meaning that every single one of the governmental authorities is responsible for the drastic situation that is now taking place and that they should be held accountable for the crisis Lebanon is undergoing.
However, since the Lebanese people are initially divided because of their different religion and the different Civil Society Organizations each belongs to, they are bound to disagree with one another, it’s inevitable. Every religion is represented by one or more authority figures in the government, criticizing those figures must be for their actions and not for the faction they represent. Thus, some of the citizens’ mindset clashed together.
Though many believe in the revolution and its ideals in creating a better country, they won’t abandon their presenters. And so, factions who still believed in the revulsion and wanted to give their figures and the political system another chance were created. yet, others were against the protest as a whole; sticking with their civil society organizations and trying to stop the revolution or deter it.
Those against the protest mostly belong to Hezbollah, Amal Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, and Future Movement. Some of them were using social media and other different peaceful means; expressing their discomfort on the street, bank and school closing movements that the protesters were doing. but then again, others were taking more drastic measures and using violence to achieve their goals against the peaceful protests.
However, it should be noted that some of those organization leaders spoke against their followers’ actions. Last but not least, there is a faction of people who are afraid of history repeating itself and that the revolution will be the spark that ignites another bloody civil war.
Despite the obstacles the protesters were facing, the revolution has been winning through small victories for the past month. Students from around the nation started joining the protests and demanding a better future for themselves . Thus, awareness of the current situation has spread throughout the nation and- thanks to social media- the entire world.
Nonetheless, the greatest victory the protests achieved was the resignation of the prime minister Saad Al Hariri, absolving by that the current ministry. on Oct. 29, the Hariri claimed he’d hit a “dead end” in trying to implement reforms and quell the unrest; Hence, his resignation. Earlier that day, supporters of the Hezbollah and Amal parties beat demonstrators and journalists, then set fire to protest encampments in downtown Beirut which played a role in Hariri’s decision .
Aoun is now responsible for choosing the next prime minister as required by the political consultations. while Aoun’s party condemned Hariri’s actions, saying that his resignation could push Lebanon into a void, Hariri’s allies applauded him for his resignation. On the other hand, the international community has responded with slight panic, having uniformly, in order to contain the chaos, expressed its support for Hariri to stay in power.
As the protests continue, the country’s status continues to get worse by the day. Prices have gone up on the most trivial things. The gas stations are closed down because of the gasoline and dollar shortage. Local companies and factories are closing down, releasing by that hundred unemployed people to the streets. Schools aren’t paying their employees’ wages.
Most importantly, the US dollar’s price which was equivalent to 1500 Lebanese currency now ranges between 1800 and 2800 depending on the day. Moreover, because of the bad combination of Lebanon’s infrastructure and heavy rain, sewages are floating the streets. The country is now seeing its worst year ever since the war.
In spite of this, the protestors’ spirit remains strong. Lebanese people keep coming with different creative ways to express themselves using art and other forms of protests. Protestors have done everything from forming a human chain along the coast to drawing and painting pro protest pieces, to simply forming peaceful gatherings on the streets.
However, the peaceful nature of the protests didn’t stop casualties from happening. Many people were injured all over Lebanon while joining the protests. The worst-case was the death of Alaa Abu Fakher, a Lebanese national, On the evening of 12 November. Alaa was shot and killed in Khalde at the ensuing protests, leaving behind a widow and two grieving orphans.
The Lebanese revolution doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Both Lebanon and the protestors have crossed a line that they can’t go back from. The only way now is going forward; whether it is for the better or worse only time will tell.
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Photos by Jad Hassanieh