Protesters in Lebanon condemn walls installed by security forces following clashes

Protesters in Lebanon condemn walls installed by security forces following clashes
Following several days of clashes between security forces and protesters, several concrete walls were constructed blocking entrances to downtown Beirut.
7 min read
02 January, 2020
The constructions been condemned by protesters who view them as an attempt to divide Beirut

A family walked towards the razor wire that towered over them in downtown Beirut. They approached a small security check point to the right of the wire where a police officer told them that they would have to find another route since the road was closed for parliamentary consultations.

Following several days of clashes between security forces and protesters as well as clashes between security forces and supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement on December 14-17, security forces, under the cover of night, constructed several concrete walls, blocking entrances to downtown Beirut.

Several days later, on December 21, the main road that runs through downtown was blocked off for only the one day with barricades and razor wire closing off access to the road and the public having to present IDs if they wanted to enter.

However, the two concrete walls continue to block two entrances near Riad el-Solh, a popular square that many protesters go to organise demonstrations, and have since been covered in murals and graffiti.

They have also been widely condemned by protesters who view them as an attempt to divide Beirut in a way that it has not been since the civil war. 

"Lebanon: Day 63 of the Revolution," Daily Star photojournalist Hasan Shaaban tweeted.

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"During the 17 or so years of the Lebanese civil war, Beirut was split into East/West but no wall as separating both sides. Today, 30 years later, West Beirut in separated by a wall into South west Beirut and North west Beirut."

Despite many having this view, Interim Minister of the Interior Raya el-Hassan went on the TV programme Ashreen 30 to say that the walls are only there as a way to aid security forces who have become tired following the days of clashes.

"The construction of the wall is a temporary security decision taken due to the limited number of riot police who are tired and exhausted due to the recent events, in order to facilitate their work," she said. "Let us leave security decisions to security."

However, to many protesters, the walls are a reminder of the system that they have been rallying against for over two months and an attempt by the government to divide communities, specifically, the Shia community in Khandaq al-Ghamiq.

"When they build a structure like this," protester Ali Dirany told The New Arab, "it is a reminder of the apartheid policies. It's a discrimination policy. It's put under a very false pretence. If you want to talk about security and making sure that general security is being enforced to protect people, this is not the way because, firstly, there is something about it that's dividing in the streets. 

"The Amal Movement supporters who are always attacking... we want them to join, we don't want a separation with them. This is what the system wants. They want us to be two blocks or two streets against each other. They are trying to bring back a situation that is not existing anymore. They're trying to force it. They are trying to force a different struggle for the people to confront each other and not to confront the government. This wall, they think, or they assume, that by doing this, they are achieving this plan."

For other protesters, like Lebanese American University (LAU) student Tima Kanaan, the government is continuing to avoid doing their job by putting up walls instead of listening to the people in the streets who are calling for changes to the decades long system. 

"I believe that they aren't doing the job that they are supposed to be doing because they are just focusing on putting walls or being against the people in the country instead of getting why the people are really on the streets," Kanaan told The New Arab. 

"People are going to the streets, some people are committing suicide, some people are starving to death, this whole revolution, it's not for nothing. It's just that people are so done with everything that's going on here that they want to make a change."

People are going to the streets, some people are committing suicide, some people are starving to death, this whole revolution, it's not for nothing

After discovering the wall that had been quickly erected, many protesters expressed anger over its creation.

"I felt really angry," LAU student Sarah Kaskas said to The New Arab, "because the government is trying as much as they can to shut us up and we are always responding and saying, 'No we won't shut up.' We are still on the streets after two months. We're doing our best to get them to listen to us and to respond to our basic rights and our demands."

In addition to anger, Kanaan said that she felt confused by the recent actions taken by the security forces since the clashes earlier in the month.

"I was there when a group of people from a specific political party came and started throwing rocks at the darak [police]," she explained.

"It's really confusing because sometimes they [the police] are trying to protect some people and sometimes they are just protecting themselves and sometimes they are protecting some political party because they are afraid of that political party." 

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According to Kanaan, the walls are not just an attempt at dividing people, but also a physical symbol to prevent people from expressing themselves.

"They are physically and mentally stopping the people from expressing themselves," she stated.

"The walls are the physical aspect and mentally it is how they are not responding and not doing anything. They are kind of just low key ignoring whatever is happening because whenever there is a meeting in the government, they just postpone it and keep doing that every single time. That says a lot."

Following several days of postponing a meeting that would decide Lebanon's next prime minister, on December 19, the government met with Hassan Diab being chosen by a small majority to form a new government.

Following his appointment, a new wave of protests swept throughout the country. Then, on December 21, while Diab was taking part in consultations to form a new technocratic government of exporters, the main road going through the Beirut Souq's in downtown was blocked off with metal barriers blocking one end and razor wire blocking the other.

If a member of the public wanted to go through the empty street, then they had to tell the officer at the checkpoint where they were going as well as present a form of official ID. In some cases, people were not allowed through and were told to find another way through. This only lasted the one day. 

While speaking with The New Arab, Dirany stated that some of the protesters were working on plans to physically remove the walls but offered little in details as to how and when this would happen.

"This wall is going to come down very soon," he stated passionately, "It's going to be brought down by us. By the revolutionaries."

"There's many choices," he later added, "I don't know what we will end up doing, but there are many choices. It's being studied by people who have certain expertise in this sort of thing."

This wall is going to come down very soon... It's going to be brought down by us. By the revolutionaries

The removal of the walls by the protesters is a point of division for some of the demonstrators with some viewing it as a way of sending a strong message to the government that they will not divide them no matter how hard they try, while others believe that by the protesters doing this, then they will being telling the government that they are violent, contrary to the largely peaceful protests that have taken place up until this point.

Kaskas is one of the protesters who are worried about the message that removing the walls would send to the government.

"I think that it is a strong message, but I think that it will cause more problems and they will think that we are violent because we are coming down and saying that we are peaceful. So, when we do that, it will kind of change the image of us being peaceful. But, if it has to happen, then it will happen," she said.

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

Follow him on Twitter: @nicfrakesjourno

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