Lebanon’s mass revolt against corruption and poverty continues – The Guardian

Lebanon’s mass revolt against corruption and poverty continues – The Guardian

Dissent gains momentum with country’s largest protests since Cedar revolution of 2005




Protesters in front of the Muhammad al-Amin mosque in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, on Sunday.
Photograph: Wael Hamzeh/EPA

The largest protests in Lebanon in 14 years are set to shut down the country for a fifth day on Monday, as a revolt against a weak government, ailing services and a looming economic collapse continues to gain momentum.

Demonstrators took to the streets of most urban centres on Sunday to rail against officials who they say are preventing badly needed reforms that would cut into the pockets of the ruling class, and are instead trying to recoup state revenues by taxing the poor.

Dissent erupted on Thursday after new taxes were announced including a $6 per month levy on the messaging application WhatsApp, which was instrumental in sending protesters on to the streets. Anger boiled over on Friday, leading to the ransacking of high-end shops in Beirut and the death of one man in the northern city of Tripoli.

Since then, the protests have settled into large peaceful gatherings that have crossed sectarian and social lines and continued to grow in size and energy as Lebanese leaders struggled to formulate a response.

Lebanese women take part in a protest in Beirut on Sunday.


Lebanese women take part in a protest in Beirut on Sunday. Photograph: Wael Hamzeh/EPA

Lebanese flags dominated the Beirut skyline on Sunday, with the flags of political groups or militias largely absent – a rarity in earlier protests. Sheikh Fadi Saad, a Shia cleric, said: “I am a man of God. I must stand with the people. All politicians and all the sects they represent are corrupt. I have two sons, one in Lyon and one in Versaille; why should they be working there? There is no dignity left in this country.”

While demonstrations are not uncommon in Lebanon, crowds of this size taking to the streets for such a duration have not been seen since the so-called Cedar revolution of 2005, which led to Syrian forces leaving the country after 15 years of post-civil war involvement in its neighbour’s affairs.

That moment was supposed to usher in a new era of governance in which local officials were freer to manage national affairs. Instead, rampant corruption and nepotism have taken hold across state institutions and the gap between a privileged elite and the rest of the country has widened.

Lebanon’s economy, meanwhile, has neared a precipice with a national debt of 150% of GDP and rising, central bank reserves plunging 30% in the past year and the local currency slipping against the dollar in recent months.

Protesters in the northern city of Tripoli on Sunday.


Protesters in the northern city of Tripoli on Sunday. Photograph: Ibrahim Chalhoub/AFP via Getty Images

Ali, 32, one of the thousands of unemployed Lebanese people, said: “The ‘hidden hand’ the politicians will soon start speaking of, the ‘conspiracy against our sovereignty’ is false. The hidden hand … is actually just our dignity that woke up. We’ve been silent and sedated for so long, we’ve now awakened. They are not used to us, the people, having pride. But we’ll show them.”

A devaluation against the dollar is widely viewed as a tipping point by economists and diplomats. They have urged Lebanese leaders to introduce deep structural reforms to free up revenues and pave the way for $11bn in soft loans and grants that could stimulate a moribund economy.

The aid package was put together by France, which has insisted on tangible efforts to change a deeply entrenched patronage network, which has seen political leaders siphon of billions of dollars of state revenues to use to pay benefactors and secure votes.

A woman in downtown Beirut, who did not want to be identified, said: “Someone should a page out of [the Saudi crown prince] Mohammed bin Salman’s book and imprison all our thieves, as he did with his men at the Ritz in Saudi. Our politicians have no mercy. They steal our salaries and livelihood. I have a son. I can barely afford to send him to school. Why can’t I send him to school? Why don’t I have insurance? Why don’t I have electricity? Why is the garbage on my street? Our youth is drugged out due to unemployment, our parents are dying because we cannot afford decent healthcare. I hope we can all flee and leave this land of ash to them.”

Protesters hold placards in downtown Beirut on Sunday.


Protesters hold placards in downtown Beirut on Sunday. Photograph: Hussein Malla/AP

Nearby, Hussein el Hek, 21, also unemployed, said: “Tasty food has become a luxury. I haven’t seen a single politician sacrifice a salary. They’re not only stealing, they’re stealing shamelessly. It’s got to a point where they’re literally the cause of cancer in people. All politicians are staying much longer than they deserve, and when they leave we have to deal with their children.

“I can’t afford my daily life, I can’t afford to be in love, I can’t afford to marry, I can’t afford to take care of my own. This is why we’re protesting. I can’t give loyalty to those who can’t feed me any more.”

Additional reporting: Nadia al-Faour


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