Lebanon, Not Just an Intifada but a Revolution

Kevork Sassouni

Summary: Mass mobilization continues into a fourth week, challenging political, economic and sectarian forces. Image is of martyred Aala Abu Fakhr — Editors

The Lebanese Intifada enters its fourth week with still great resilience and revolutionary fervor. Even after the resignation of the government last week, people have every day and night shown up in great numbers across Lebanese cities and villages and have hindered day-to-day activity in different and creative ways. They call for the resignation of parliament and even of the president, and demand retribution for the suffering caused by the neoliberal state apparatuses of the last three decades.

Protesters have blocked streets and intersections and sang re-appropriated popular tunes (https://www.facebook.com/MaherKhechen/videos/10217795802760313/). This has caused much tension with the army and police in some areas, and citizens have been harassed. Protesters have put rocks on roads, set up tents and campsites, and parked their cars on different highways. A popular slogan has been “hela hela hela hela ho el tariq msakkar ya helo” (“…the road is closed sweetie”).

Protestors have been extremely conscious of cleaning up after themselves, with recycling at a historical high. They have also been good at attending to different emergencies during protests such as beaten up protesters, women in labor among passersby and other medical emergencies. They have set up free kitchens, first aid and mental health stands and have organized lectures across the country. Academics, economists, lawyers, university students and others are lecturing about how to use the legal system to take back the “stolen money,” i.e.,  the money systematically stolen from the state over the last 30 years by the parties comprising it. Other lectures have been on how to organize on the streets, to make sure to keep the “kellon yaane kellon” (everyone means everyone) sentiment against politicians alive.

They have organized daily protests to reclaim public spaces such as squares, and importantly, the Lebanese coast. The Lebanese coast is almost completely privatized by domestic and offshore hotels and resorts, most of them there illegally. One of the small victories over the course of these 27 days has been a halt to the construction in one of the last public beaches in Beirut. People have occupied the stolen space through sit ins, picnics (https://www.facebook.com/lebaneseinaustralia/videos/861807950881088/) and swims in the water (https://www.facebook.com/samah.abilmona/videos/3563727580311975/), and have demanded their return to public ownership. Protestors have marched to the Bisri Dam (https://www.facebook.com/mahmoud.abz/videos/10163072158730179/), where already there has been activism to halt operations as they are obscenely damaging to the environment. Other designs for dams have resulted in utter failure due to sheer incompetence. The Intifada is an intersectional struggle for justice; it includes demands for economic, social, and environmental justice.

Students in universities but also middle schools and high schools across the country went on strike independently, reigniting the vitality of the revolt last week (https://www.facebook.com/MaherKhechen/videos/10217812808145437/); (https://www.facebook.com/lama.ghandour.7/videos/10156816824683553/). They demand quality education and reform in public schools and universities. The (ex but still acting) minister of education has been obliged to close all schools and universities for Tuesday following a long week and weekend of protests. Many journalists have resigned their positions in the (left leaning) centrist newspaper Al-Akhbar for distorting general opinion on the revolt. Employees around Lebanon have gone on strike because restaurants, retail stores and other businesses have cut their paychecks, sometimes by half, because of a looming economic crisis.

“Down with the rule of the banks” is another popular slogan, alongside “the people want the downfall of the state.” There is an immediate need for cash in the Lebanese economy, or it is feared than there could be escalating shortages of bread and other vital foods.

At Tuesday’s parliamentary session they had promised a transitional government, but votes have been postponed to the 19th of November, which infuriated the street. There is obviously huge suspicion over the intentions of parliament, but one bill that is being discussed during the session is an amnesty law for all those that have committed fraud and embezzlement, which will make it harder to retrieve the stolen monies. It will also make it harder to hold politicians accountable for their financial crimes and they will be able to come back into public office as ministers and MPs. This resonates a 1991 bill, which safeguarded the immunity of all the “princes” of the civil war, who are still largely active in the political sphere. Some ex-ministers are wanted by the law but have been in hiding (probably by mediation of the state anyway). It is important to understand the amount of wealth the Lebanese political class sits on to understand how they can get away with so much. They own  almost 25% of the country’s wealth, and the bottom 50% make due with only 11% (https://mobile.twitter.com/lydia_assouad/status/1185638037335740416); (https://drive.google.com/file/d/12lsZAlMWHl64NuQxMrf4zb8h6mOIj-AP/view?usp=drivesdk). Berri, Jumblatt, Michel el Merr, Sanioura, Najib Mikati, and Riad Salaameh are only a few the names of Lebanese politicians who are billionaires. All the political parties have different shares in the country’s business, including dirty business such as the sale of drugs, arms, etc. It is possible to imagine them as crime families, in charge of different rackets, through nepotism and clientelism. They actively protect their interests through brutal gang (family and sectarian members) rule. Newly revealed information by brilliant investigative journalists has pointed fingers at fraud committed by many low and high-playing actors from different parties.

The political class is trapped in a very bad place. Some parties such as the [Christian] Lebanese Forces and Phalangists have jumped on the bandwagon of the revolt and voiced their support. The people have shown that they know better than to trust these parties, which have in their turn sent goons on protesters as well. The Amal Movement’s Berri who is also Speaker of Parliament, has called for his MPs to remove banking secrecy. He also has claimed that he is for the complete removal of the Taif Accord, something which could strike a nerve for the Christians who would potentially be at a disadvantage politically as they are lesser in numbers. There are calls for a secular arrangement of the state by the Intifada, but it is not clear what the people’s imagination of a new state would look like. Berri and Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze, would absolutely love to take advantage of this temporary void of imagination. Sectarianism is no more a scare tactic, and people across Lebanon are unequivocally against taking up arms against each other. “Down with the father of fear” is one popular slogan, implicating directly and indirectly the sectarian leaders, among them Michel Aoun, the president. His presidency, nicknamed “the era of the strong,” had been long in the making. He promised reform and to fight corruption under the banner of “father of all” but has provided no results or change whatsoever since the formation of government last year.

The state in Lebanon is a compromise state by all the parties, arranged by Aoun. He reached a deal with all parties after around 3 years of executive vacancy. The parties externally show dislike and hate for each other, but in reality participate together in money schemes, and together have agreed upon escalating austerity measures on the people. Finally, after 30 years, the mask of fear and paranoia is being toppled and the so-called sectarian leaders and their parties are seen for what they really are, mafiosos and oligarchs in charge of the country’s wealth.

There are such great shows of solidarity, camaraderie and national unity on Lebanese streets that it is difficult even for Hezbollah’s Nasrallah to portray the Intifada as imperialist infiltration. He reiterated his position that there is an imperialist conspiracy at play on Monday morning in his fourth speech since the beginning of the Intifada. He also tries to stoke fear and paranoia. However, people were largely apathetic and dismissive toward his speech, which went on about infiltration with no evidence whatsoever. He mentioned, like other politicians and leaders, that this revolt will create a vacancy in governance and that Lebanon would be in economic danger, but also under threat from Israel. This is a ludicrous claim considering that the Lebanese state sat through three years of vacancy (because of them!) just fine, and no one has called for the retraction of Hezbollah’s weapons. They remain a huge force in the region and are entirely capable of defending Lebanese territories from Israeli attacks.

Protestors in the South, Tripoli, Beirut and Mount Lebanon have torn down posters of their sect leaders and replaced them with Lebanese flags. Women have organized a huge all-women sit in, where they lit candles and sang the newly edited national anthem which added “women” to a line telling of Lebanon as having men (as in strong, macho men). Small victories as this have expanded the hearts of many Lebanese. Women, it is crucial to mention, have been an indescribably big part of this Intifada (https://www.facebook.com/Journalist.Afif/videos/810229786101890/). At night, people have been standing on their windows and balconies and banging on pots and pans, projecting their pain, their anger and resistance in the form of noise, a sort of great collective existential cry (https://www.facebook.com/farfahinne/posts/10162447865935366).

It is still not clear what awaits the Lebanese, but the people are adamant about staying in the streets. Party thugs and goons, alongside army and police, have been sent to disrupt protestor activities but have been met with peaceful resistance. The Intifada has grown into something greater than ever expected with no signs of stopping. There have been expressions of solidarity with revolts in Iraq, Chile, Sudan and other places. People understand that there cannot be a way back to normalcy. Normalcy never was an option anyway in Lebanon. Lebanese streets are louder than ever, and they are revolutionary. The Sheikh Imam Issa song rings in valleys and mountains: “and we know now who is the reason of our pain, we know now and we go and meet them/ we the workers, the farmers and the students, our time has come and we thus begin.”

 

POSTSCRIPT of Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Things have escalated tonight as a protester by named Aala Abu Fakhr has been shot dead in Khaldeh. He is reported to have been an organizer of demonstrations in the town, and a member of Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party. There is word that army spies killed Aala on a main street near his home. His wife and child were there at the time it happened, and an SUV was seen driving away from bloody crime scene. One officer stood nearby when it happened with his hands in his pocket.

Jumblatt has since appeared in the town of the deceased to give his condolences. He unequivocally reaffirmed his support in the state and warned of further escalations if the people do not concede to the state. It is not clear why Aala was assassinated, but he appears to be an active organizer in his neighborhood. He possibly stood as a threat to the control of the (Druze) Progressive Socialist Party. He is the fourth martyr of the Intifada.

All this came after president Michel Aoun’s live TV interview earlier in the day. He yet again dismissed protesters and said that if they do not agree with whatever the state offers, they can emigrate. Aoun seemed fickle and senile, even more so than when he came on “live” with an edited video in the second week of the revolt. Protesters online met this with great laughter while others took to the streets. Some have again burned tires to block streets, while others have parked their cars on freeways. There is report of that Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement party office in Aley, a Druze area, was set on fire.

There were calls for protest on Wednesday in front of the Castle of Baabda where the president resides. There has not been a big demonstration in front of the castle yet, and turnout will be interesting to keep an eye on. Despite the threats that are posed, the people are not willing to concede. Postponing parliament’s session to next Tuesday is unacceptable to everyone. It is evident that the state is deliberately squeezing out the energy of the protests, hoping they die out.

Different kinds of violent events are happening across Lebanon. Some forces seem to be orchestrating events to steer the peaceful revolt from its tracks. There is no telling what could happen next. Two different streets are emerging, and the counterrevolutionary one is merciless.

Every day proves more and more that this is not just an intifada; this is a thawra (revolution).

 

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