Lebanese Uprising Riad al solh Oct 20

Some observations about the Lebanon uprising so far (which began on October 17):

1) The protests have been large-scale, widespread, inclusive, cross-sectarian and with participation from all sectors of society. The number of examples and displays of unity so far by protesters are too abundant to list and are nothing short of miraculous for Lebanon (which is why there is hope in the streets that this could be a turning point in our history).

The most touching example of unity so far (for me) is protesters in Tripoli (overwhelmingly Sunni and second largest city in Lebanon) chanting and standing in solidarity with the protesters in Sour (overwhelmingly Shia) who were being beaten by thugs from the Amal movement because they dared to criticize and forcibly speak out against Nabih Berri (who is our Speaker of the House, the leader of Amal and the most influential political figure in Sour). Nothing but love and admiration for all these people.

2) There is palpable rage directed at the corrupt ruling political class, who have enriched themselves at the expense of the immiserated people over the past 30 years.

One of the more widespread demands of the protesters, codified into the popular slogan “killon ya3ne killon” (which means “all of them means all of them”), is for the entire political class to step down. I should mention that special ire has been reserved for our Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Gebran Bassil (who is the head of the Free Patriotic Movement Party and the son in law of our President), with the most colorful chant so far directed squarely at him: heeeela heeeela hela hela hoooo, Gebran Bassil, kiss immoooo (the latter is a powerful curse-word in Arabic that doesn’t translate well into English). Petitions to change our national anthem to this new slogan are gaining steam.

Along those lines, one of the other widespread demands from the protesters is for politicians to return stolen money, as there is a (correct and) widespread belief that the political class has stolen billions from state coffers.

3) The uprising, no doubt, is grounded in socio-economic grievances from a variety of perspectives. From lack of basic services like running electricity and water, to lack of basic amenities like healthcare and insurance for the elderly, to lack of jobs and economic opportunities for the youth, to increasing taxes on basic goods, the state has spectacularly failed to deliver on every front. People are struggling to survive and are sick and tired of living on a precipice’s edge.

There’s also a clear message being directed against the banks in the country by large swaths of the demonstrators who see the banking sector in Lebanon (which owns most of country’s debt) as financially choking the country and bleeding it dry.

4) Hariri (our PM) had given himself 72 hours since the beginning of the protests to come up with a resolution to quell popular discontent, and announced today a list of reforms that he hoped would reduce the anger in the streets. Importantly, he didn’t tender his resignation nor did anyone else in the government (beyond the 4 Lebanese Forces ministers a couple of days ago), and his announcement was met with boos in Riad Solh square in Beirut. People continued to protest post announcement, and I very much doubt his list of reforms will end the uprising anytime soon as there is no trust whatsoever that the current government can deliver on any of its promises.

5) Despite all the well-justified optimism regarding this uprising, there are some worries. There is always the possibility that the ruling class will send its thugs to forcibly clear demonstrations (e.g. the aforementioned situation in Sour), or the Internal Security Forces will engage in brute force against the protesters at a larger scale than so far (and they certainly have engaged in brutality so far, including mass arrests, tear gas and severe beatings), or even that the army will get orders to forcibly end it all (so far, the army’s reaction has been mixed from what I’ve seen; in some cases defending protesters and in other cases doing the beating). The situation is extremely fluid on this front.

The other big worry is the crumbling of that aforementioned unity and a devolution of the unified uprising via sectarian tensions and/or political disagreements into a more fragmented affair. As an example, although the vast majority of protesters are laser-focused on the entire ruling class, I’m starting to see small but worrying displays of dissent here and there by groups of protesters who want to shield certain politicians from other protesters’ discontent (e.g. killon ya3ne killon, bas mish _____). No doubt the ruling class will try its best to stoke these tensions, and hope that the current unified front dissolves over time. I continue to hope that everyone will see through these transparent attempts (and the vast majority of people, so far, certainly have), but only time will tell. Still hopeful though!