The ‘Cedar Spring’? Lebanese Renew Anti-government Protests
Citizens take to the streets en masse as caretaker prime minister is unable to form coalition
Acting on a populist call for a “week of wrath,” Lebanese citizens on Tuesday renewed protests against political corruption, leading to confrontations with security forces in the capital, Beirut. Mass demonstrations that initially broke out in October and precipitated the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his cabinet, had eased after the country’s former education minister, Hassan Diab, was tasked on December 19 with forming a new coalition.
Nearly a month later, Lebanon remains in turmoil, with protesters again taking to the streets in multiple cities, blocking central roads and burning tires. In the north, citizens blocked the entrance to Tripoli, where numerous public facilities and some of the local offices of political parties were surrounded.
“We are witnessing today the beginning of the second wave of the Lebanese uprising, which came after a period of waiting [to form a new government]. But the authorities proved that they are the cause of destruction,” Asad Bishara, previously an adviser to former Lebanese justice minister Ashraf Rifi, told The Media Line.
Bishara, who currently writes for the Aljoumhouria media outlet, explained that the civil unrest that started in October had failed to achieve its goal of overthrowing what is “widely viewed as an elitist, sectarian-based political structure in Beirut.”
“They [the people in power] fuel sectarian conflicts to exert control over Lebanon, but their vow to form a national unity government has been exposed as a lie,” Bishara stated. He added that many of the protesters would prefer a government of independents and technocrats, as their primary concern remains Lebanon’s failing economy.
“Instead, they made attempts to clone the previous government. In short, a corrupt authority,” Bishara said.
The civil unrest broke out on October 17, ostensibly over the proposed implementation of a tax on the messaging application, WhatsApp. However, the protesters quickly took aim at the government as well as Iran, whose proxy, Hizbullah, wields control over many sectors of the country. After Hariri’s resignation 12 days later, President Michel Aoun vowed that the next leadership would be more inclusive and eventually designated Diab to begin negotiations toward that end.
“We [Lebanese] are demanding our basic rights as human beings. Since October, we have been screaming [for help] but no one has answered,” Reen Haidar, a Beirut-based protester, told the Media Line.
“We are hungry and every day the breadwinner of a family commits suicide because of the difficult living conditions,” she said.
Despite widespread poverty and a crumbling national infrastructure, Haidar highlighted that politicians one night earlier had started discussing how power and positions would be allocated among their various constituencies.
“This country was established on the basis of sectarian quotas and therefore Lebanese citizens are obligated to belong to a sect in order to obtain basic rights,” Haidar said.
“[Prime Minister-designate] Diab,” she continued, “approves of the sectarianism and the evidence is his inability to present a lineup for a new government because the process is continuously postponed due to objections over the inclusion or exclusion of this name or that.”
Notably, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah last month publicly rejected the prospective establishment of a government of “a single color,” which, he warned, would not serve Lebanon’s interests.
When contacted by The Media Line, a spokesperson for Hizbullah declined to comment on the latest developments.
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Abi Saab also declined to comment on the protests.
Lebanese lawmaker Paula Yacoubian told The Media Line that she expects the civil disobedience to continue. “I always said the revolution hadn’t started yet; the revolution is just beginning now,” she asserted, while emphasizing that the political dysfunction was occurring “at a time when the country needs a [reliable] government more than ever.”
Yacoubian does not foresee a resolution to the crisis anywhere on the horizon and accused those in power of “leaving the Lebanese to confront a destiny of starvation and collapse.”