Human chain by Lebanese protesters. (Photo: CNN)
A few observations regarding the last 3 days of the Lebanon uprising, which entered a new stage over the weekend from several different perspectives:
1) Nasrallah’s speech on Friday (10/25/19), where he rejected the downfall of the government and asked Hizballah’s supporters to exit the streets, was a turning point and somewhat of a setback; indeed, the power of the uprising from the beginning was its cross-sectarian people power, and some of that was unfortunately lost after the speech.
I say that because the Hizballah supporters who attacked protesters in Riad al Solh square on Friday were not the only ones to evacuate the square, but it also seems like a number of peaceful Hizballah sympathizers that had every reason to demonstrate along with everyone else about the wretched situation in the country heeded the call from Nasrallah to stop participating in the demos (after participating throughout the week). I say that based on a few lines of evidence (though I won’t pretend to be scientifically exact here), including the smaller crowds the following day after the speech and over the weekend in Riad al Solh square and Martyrs square (versus previous days), the online chatter among their supporters, and the general sway that Nasrallah has over his constituency. Regardless of what people think of Hizballah and of Nasrallah specifically, they / he commands the sympathy and loyalty of a large segment of the population, including large swaths of the poor and disenfranchised in the country, and the uprising surely loses some of the wind in its sails when a large segment of the population withdraws from participating in it (at least for now), especially since this uprising is, afterall, for all Lebanese.
Nasrallah’s speech furthermore alluded to conspiracies and suspicious agendas behind the uprising, which wasn’t helpful, since his remarks were in large part misleading (and this after clearly stating in his first speech at the onset of the uprising that this was a true uprising of the people), which provided the impetus for some of his constituents to start “detecting” hidden agendas and intrigue.
2) As mentioned above, the crowds over the weekend in Beirut on Saturday and Sunday were smaller than those earlier in the week (for e.g. on 10/20/19), but they were still large, numbering in the tens of thousands, though short of the million protesters they were hoping to attract. Some of that is related to 1) above, and some of it is related to the beginning of a counter-revolutionary current that threatens this uprising (more on that below). On a more positive note, the human chain from Sour to Tripoli was a nice and symbolic gesture of unity, and though some may belittle the value of such efforts (surely such acts don’t force the resignations of governments, they say), these gestures are important from the perspective of trying to create a new culture of unity that overcomes sectarianism and differences in the country; so I say kudos to such efforts.
3) Regarding the counter-revolutionary current that’s beginning to form, it’s remarkable to see it build up in the real time, and to examine how it operates. First and foremost, it works by sowing fear and doubt into people’s minds about the objectives of the uprising by either misleading about certain issues or by taking discrete and real but non-representative incidents and framing them as representative and fundamental to the goals of the uprising. As an example of the former, a large cutout of the “clenched fist symbol” that made an appearance in Martyr’s square over the weekend is not really the universal and generic symbol of “revolution” or “power to the people”, but instead, represents George Soros’ nefarious schemes to overthrow the government via OTPOR (an organization that went defunct in 2004 and whose symbol bears a distant resemblance to the Martyr’s square fist). As an example of the latter, a small group of students (surely numbering less than a 100 in a sea of tens of thousands) chanting against Hizballah (after Nasrallah’s disappointing speech) is suddenly the one true objective of the uprising, as opposed to the overwhelming cries heard throughout these past 12 days of throwing out the entire corrupt political class and dealing with the socio-economic crisis that threatens to destroy the country.
A great example of the dishonest tactics mentioned above is a video that was released by OTV a couple of days ago (beholden to the Free Patriotic movement or FPM, which was founded by our current President Michel Aoun and which is led by his son-in-law and current Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, he of Hela Hela Ho fame), which literally threw a bunch of shit against the wall and hoped something would stick; and when I say shit, I mean they literally brought up every fear-mongering tactic under the sun to create a narrative of a galactic Saudi Jihadi Zionist conspiracy from Mars that was about to take over Lebanon. It really was something to behold, in one of the most transparently amateurish attempts at propaganda I’ve seen in a while.
4) Having said the above, it’s also clear that opportunists are trying to “ride the wave” of the uprising, and to position themselves as guarantors of the people’s demands vis a vis the government when they are part of the system that needs to be overhauled (e.g. Samir Geagea and the Lebanese Forces). These are opportunists and spoilers, and though they are being rejected in large part, this in turn, provides those critics of the uprising with something to point to in order to undermine it and justify not participating in the effort.
5) The uprising is entering what I would call the “grinding stage”, where protesters are grinding it out with the government in a battle of wills. They’re calling for general strikes and trying their best to block roads to constrict the economic activity in the country to force the government to yield (a tried tested and true non-violent tactic employed in countless struggles), while resisting government efforts to remove their erected barriers. A particularly valiant effort that is to be commended is the blockade erected around Ring Road, where protesters decided to furnish and remodel the highway with couches and refrigerators while entertaining themselves by playing soccer and participating in yoga classes on the asphalt.
6) Regardless of what comes out of the current incarnation of this uprising, I strongly suspect that this is only the first phase of what promises to be a long struggle against the ruling class in the country. The government is counting on physical and emotional exhaustion of the protesters combined with a disinformation campaign that aims to sow fear and doubt in people’s minds in the hopes of keeping them away from the protests. In their attempts to foil the protests, they will also likely attempt to cosmetically reshuffle the cabinet in the hopes of calming tensions and then try to pass some reforms. But the economic crisis is here and isn’t likely to go away anytime soon (and likely will get worse over time), and it’s hardly believable that the gang of politicians that got us into this mess in the first place will be able to get us out. As such, even if the protests dwindle somewhat in size (and maybe even temporarily pause in certain parts of the country), surely there will be more to come as it’s highly unlikely that the same (or similar) gang will succeed in addressing the true malaise that ails the country.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t once again salute the protesters leading the struggle against this corrupt government. All my love and admiration to you for trying to improve this country for all of us.