Despite political and religious differences, the people of Lebanon have unified to protest governmental corruption, inequality, and sectarianism.
Protestors have flooded the streets since Oct. 17 and refuse to leave until changes occur.
Much of the protests were promoted by recent proposed taxes, one of them being on the WhatsApp, a widely used messaging app in Lebanon. However, this is not the sole focus of the protests, especially since NBC reports that the proposed levy on WhatsApp calls were revoked. Much of the people’s dissent has been building for years.
Even roughly 30 years after Lebanon’s civil war has ended the country still faces challenges. The countries government has been described as plagued with nepotism and sectarianism. Lebanon’s politics heavily follows religion. According to their constitution, their parliament must be divided equally amongst Muslims and Christians. The country has 18 recognized religious groups and seven main parties. However, Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group, holds a vast majority of the seats, giving them a firm control over many of the country’s activities.
According to The New Yorker, in May 2018, Lebanon held its first parliamentary elections since 2009, and it gave hope to civilians for a more effective government. However, did not occur. The country’s economic growth rate is at one percent, living costs are skyrocketing, many civilians have back up power generators because of regular power outages, and Lebanon is ranked the third-most indebted country in the world.
Youseff Elsaadi, a Lebanese student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, stated he believes the protests broke out because of “piled up issues from dividing the country into religious sectors all the way to letting politicians be a godlike figure to some people.”
When asked what she hoped would come from these protests, Lebanese-American MNSU student Mirielle Ghassan said, “I hope to see basic human rights. As silly as that sounds Lebanon is lacking that. The ability to have electricity run 24/7 throughout the country is also a necessity. Better, and more reasonable salaries for all employees. The list goes on and on.”
In addition, Ghassan also put the Reporter in contact with individuals in Lebanon that have been participating in the protests for 12 days straight. One Lebanese protestor, Joanne Keyrouz, explained the protests at first were intense because of road blockages, and revolution chants and signage. However, as the days went by protestors settled into their locations with “tents, food stands, stages, and huge screens”, adding that “it became more festive with loud music and dancing.”
Keyrouz continued explaining that despite the festival ambiance demonstrators are constantly reminded of the real cause because of speeches over policy reform and government issues. In addition, she stated, “Scholars and experts have established dialogue and workshop tents to discuss opinions, revolution outcomes, ideas, and plans of action.”
Lebanese protestor Perla Menassa explained she believes the festive aspect of the protests. She said, “It brings joy and cheerfulness into such a dark time right now for Lebanon.”
Demonstrations have remained relatively peaceful. According to The Guardian, in one demonstration this week protestors formed a 105-mile human chain that stretched from Tripoli to Tyre. The chain was an effort to symbolize the unity despite the controversy
Lebanon protestor Jad Boulos explained the importance of the protests but stated he wanted to see them be achieved in a “peaceful way with the least harm and damage to economy and lives.”
Unfortunately, Lebanon’s economy has been damaged. According to an interview through CNN, Central Bank Governor Riad Salame said that Lebanon is on the verge of an economic collapse unless an “immediate solution” is found.
Lebanon is at a standstill with both sides struggling to reach a desired agreement and until one is reached, flags will continue to fill the streets, chants will echo, and problems will ensue.
Header photo courtesy of Joanne Keyrouz.