'Enough is enough': The fraught return of Lebanon's revolution

'Enough is enough': The fraught return of Lebanon's revolution
Lebanon's economic crisis has seen salaries slashed, the value of the lira plummet and the price of goods drastically inflate.
9 min read
09 June, 2020
Demonstrators returned to the streets to protest Lebanon's economic collapse. [Getty]
Hundreds of Lebanese demonstrators returned to Martyrs Square in Beirut on Saturday to hold a protest demanding change, signalling that the popular uprising which spread throughout the country in October last year is far from over.

As Lebanon continues to experience an economic crisis that has seen salaries slashed, the value of the Lebanese lira plummet and the price of goods drastically inflate - all the while with little political reform - protesters decided they could wait no longer and gathered to demand action.

The protest saw people from all over the country come to the Lebanese capital, including Firas, who came from the northern city of Tripoli, and his girlfriend Michelin, who came from Tripoli's neighbouring city Zgharta.

"We're asking for our minimal rights," Michelin told The New Arab, "like electricity, water, a justice system that's not corrupted and air that is not polluted. The minimal rights for fair living we don't have here in Lebanon."

For Firas, it is also more personal as he is a Muslim and Michelin a Christian. Because of this, they are unable to marry in their own country and need to travel to another country such as Cyprus, which has become a popular destination for Lebanese seeking civil ceremonies.

Due to corruption and the economic crisis the gap between the upper-class and the rest of society is also dramatically widening, Firas says, with the middle-class slowly starting to disappear.

We are not here just today. We are going to be here forever. This is an ongoing thing

"We feel like there is a big gap between the one percent that owns the businesses, all of the money, all of the decisions," Firas told The New Arab. "All of the regular people, the middle-class, are disappearing day by day. We want to ask for a secular country."

Friends Sybil and Fabi came from the mountain village of Chouf to take part in the protest because they say they cannot stand watching people suffer under the current system. 

Read more: How Tripoli emerged as the epicentre of
Lebanon's national crisis

"We're suffocating. Everyone is really suffocating," Fabi told The New Arab. "You see your friends and your family, your aunts and your uncles and everyone is coming down to just fight for something, you just really need to be here. And I really cannot understand people who are still at home because this is your country and if you don't fight for your country, then what are you going to fight for?"

Many protesters say that they love Lebanon and just want to see the country improve. However, they add that due to rampant corruption this is nearly impossible.

"They are just stealing the money," Fabi exclaimed, "I mean we have a garbage crisis! We have a refugee crisis. We have a lot of crises and we just can't take it anymore. It's too much. I don't think that we have anything to lose anymore. So we're just going to go full force."

A major criticism by participants of the popular uprising is that many of the political elites in power were the same people heading the various militias that took part in the civil war. 

The warlords took off their militia uniforms and started wearing suits - then they started ruling

"The warlords took off their militia uniforms and started wearing suits," Firas said. "Then they started ruling. It's like they still have the mindset that we're still in a civil war and that each sect, each religion is going to protect their people. So, they keep us away from each other. They don't want us to unite as one people so we don't revolt as is happening right now. And they're succeeding to be honest."

Since the end of the civil war in the 1990s, former militia heads have held power and, due to a flawed election system, their parties have been able to continually get seats in the parliament with independent candidates having a low chance of getting elected. Because of this, protesters are calling for reforms to the electoral law and for early elections.

"We're just asking for there to be new elections as soon as possible so we can vote now," Michelin stated, "People are hurt. So their votes are true to what they want. Let's hope that they make new elections so that we can change the entire parliament and, then, we can make the rules we want and create a secular country that respects us all."

The gap between the upper class and the rest of society is growing. [TNA/Nicholas Frakes]

While the new government formed in January by Prime Minister Hassan Diab is championed as technocratic, protesters argue that Diab has little legitimacy and is only a tool for the political elite.

"As long as they [the political elite] are still there, he's going to be their puppet. Nothing is going to change unless we really break all of this," Fabi said.

"I think that they may give us small 'appetisers' and a lot of people are going to be okay with that, but I don't buy it," Sybil added. "I think it is a facade. I think it is a game. More so than what the last government was." This was a sentiment echoed by both Firas and Michelin. "They just put them on the frontlines just to say that they are secular, that this is not a government that is affected by politics, this is independent," Firas explained. 

The politicians robbed them of everything: their dignity, their money, their lives

"But every day, they make decisions that prove to everyone that it is not. You should look at the way that they took trust. They took it by force. People were there protesting, and some people were hit. We were there. They threw tear gas at us and they hit us. They took it by force. So, how can you call it trust if it was taken that way?"

Early into the 6 June protest some protesters started throwing rocks at security forces stationed by the Ring Bridge. The security forces did not respond with violence at the time and a group of protesters formed a line in front of the security forces and called on the protesters to stop the violence.

The use of violence by protesters was condemned by people like Firas and Michelin, but not everyone shares these views. For Sybil and Fabi, if the security forces attack first, then the protesters should be free to fight back.

"It's the language that they've taught us," Sybil stated firmly. "If people feel like this is the only way that they can express themselves, then it would be unfortunate, but that is the only tool that they were given. A couple buildings and sidewalks don't matter."

Lebanon continues to experience an economic crisis. [TNA/Nicholas Frakes]

A major factor that has stirred anger in Lebanon is the deteriorating economic situation, with many people being forced to make hard choices in order just to get by. 

"I am an engineer," Michelin explained, "and let's just say that they don't pay us that well. My paycheque used to provide for me for about two weeks. The first two weeks were fine, but after that I needed to economise and avoid buying too many things. Now, from the beginning of the month, I have to be careful on how I spend my money. Prices are going up."

Despite talks between the Lebanese government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there is little hope that the pains caused by the economic crisis will be alleviated any time soon.

"Prices are going up and salaries are going down," Firas said. "People are taking half of their salaries and most of the people are unemployed. It's going to affect us more once the lockdown is over. Now we're still surviving because there is corona[virus], but I think that in the next few months it is going to get worse for a lot of people."

Prices are going up and salaries are going down. In the next few months it is going to get worse for a lot of people

Following the recent protest, those present called for a continuation of the popular uprising in order to keep pressure on the government to institute the changes that they have been demanding for nearly nine months, as well as for more people to join. Many think that the number of people taking part in the demonstrations is only going to increase due to the worsening economic situation. 

"People are starving," Firas explained. "People will have to go to the streets. What if you don't have anything to eat? You have to go there. That's why we're here. We don't want it to get that bad. We want everyone to realise that things should change." 

"We don't have the confidence of other Arab countries. We don't have the confidence of the world. The people don't have confidence in their government. Everything is really bad. We don't have much hope now, to be honest, because politicians are doing their best to stay in their seat and don't want to leave. They're using every means in the book to make this [revolution] fail."

Read more: Lebanon's uphill corruption battle against
an 'untouchable class'

"It is not just one day," Michelin added. "We are not here just today. We are going to be here forever. This is an ongoing thing. The thawra (revolution) is not just one day. There are always going to be protests in front of this ministry or that ministry or parliament. There are protests everywhere."

Fabi agreed that it was only a matter of time before more join the protests. "There are a lot of people who are hungry and they are not living with their dignity," she said, "They [the politicians] robbed them of everything: their dignity, their money, their lives."

Despite the challenges ahead, protesters are optimistic that eventually they will succeed in changing their country and creating a secular government and implementing reforms.

"I want to see people who actually know what they are doing. I want to see professionals, environmentalists, I want to see actual politicians that are there for the sake of the people," Sybil stated hopefully. 

"I want to see community representatives in the government. I want to see healthcare. I want to know that my grandma is going to get the medicine that she needs to get. I want to see an education system that tells kids the reality of the world that they live in and gives them different fields and mediums to explore," she added. 

"I want to see culture flourish without being judged. I'm kind of living in a utopia, but I think that we have the potential to change."

Nicholas Frakes is a freelance journalist who reports from London, the Middle East and North Africa.

Follow him on Twitter: @nicfrakesjourno