Defying protest bans, students lead Lebanon's uprising into its fourth week

Defying protest bans, students lead Lebanon's uprising into its fourth week
Lebanon's students have taken to the streets in large numbers to demand better opportunities and an end to mismanagement of their education, renewing protest momentum for the 21st day.
4 min read
06 November, 2019
Lebanon's students gathered for mass anti-government protests in Sidon on November 6 [Getty]
Students from schools and universities across Lebanon poured onto the streets on Wednesday, advancing to the forefront of the protest movement that has now gripped the country for 21 days.

Across the country, students went on strike from class to march in rallies demanding a better future, specifically to rid the country of the corruption and mismanagement that riddles the political class and leads to unemployment that forces many students and graduates to leave the country in search of good jobs.

Dozens of students gathered in front of the education ministry in the capital, brandishing Lebanese flags and chanting slogans demanding the removal of the political class.

Comment: More than reform, Lebanon's system needs a complete overhaul

"What will I do with a school leaver's certificate if I don't have a country?" one pupil told Lebanese television.

The largest student-led protest broke out in Sidon, where people gathered in the southern city’s central square to demand better public education and more job opportunities for school leavers, forming crowds that swelled to block the entrances to the main telecoms and electricity firm buildings.

Students in Sidon protested in spite of an audio recording that went viral on Tuesday evening, in which a secondary school principal threatened to expel students who took part in the anti-government demonstrations.

Another recording circulated on social media of schools not allowing students carrying the to enter.

Despite these threats, protests also took place in Jounieh, the southern cities of Tyre and Nabatieh, the eastern city of Zahleh and the northern city of Byblos, according to Lebanese media reports.

Social media was inundated with videos of students pouring out of school and university buildings chanting “revolution!”.

Some students had to think of creative ways to leave school amid the push-back from teachers.

A video went viral on Wednesday of students in Tripoli being lifted out of their school by a crane.

As students gathered in squares and on highways, some scuffles broke out with armed forces who tried to remove them from the roads.

The country’s main thoroughfares were re-opened on Tuesday after weeks of demonstrator’s road-blocks that brought the country to standstill for over two weeks.

A video emerged of soldiers threatening teenage students demonstrating on the roads.

“Boy or girl I do not care I will put you in the police truck if you close any road," a soldier is heard shouting at the group of youngsters.

Although not in the huge numbers witnessed in the first weeks of the protest movement, multiple uprisings sprang up across Lebanon on Wednesday evening, still focused on protesting corruption, mismanagement and poor public services.

Several hundred protesters broke into luxury private housing development Zaitounay Bay, located in the exclusive Beirut Marina, accusing the developers of corruption and of stealing public land.

At a similar protest at the Eden Bay resort, at least one demonstrator was injured as riot police attempted to contain the protests.

Such developments that dot the coast surrounding Beirut have become a symbol of corruption and occupation of public coastal land by the country’s elites.

Elsewhere in the country, demonstrators gathered around key state institutions for a second day in a row, in what appeared to be a new tactic after road-blocks were removed.

In the capital, hundreds rallied around the Palace of Justice, demanding an independent judiciary free of political interference in order to bring down the corrupt political and business leaders who often bribe their way out of prosecution.

In-depth: Violent scuffles mar peaceful protests in Beirut

"We don't want judges who receive orders," read one protester's placard.

Dozens also gathered near the central bank, accusing it of aggravating the economic crisis.

Economist Nassib Ghobril said the demands of the protest movement are aligned with those of international donors, especially in terms of the "fight against corruption, and (demands for) good governance and financial rehabilitation."

"Today, there is an opportunity to see real change" he said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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