Lebanon Uprising (Day 21): Creative Civil Disobedience

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Pots Pans Lebanon

Women protesters in Beirut’s central Martyrs Square bang on pots and pans
(Patrick Baz, AFP)

Day 21 of the Lebanon uprising: probably one of the best days so far; certainly the most creative day in terms of civil disobedience campaigns across Lebanon.

The past few days were dominated by street scuffles between protesters trying to block roads and the army / security forces trying to keep them open. This generated quite a bit of debate about the cost/benefit trade off of this strategy, with some people criticizing the protesters for impacting their ability to work / go to school etc, and protesters arguing that this was needed to keep the pressure on the government to yield to demands as the President, 7 days after Hariri’s resignation, hadn’t even started the process of consulting with Parliament to select the new PM (who would then form a new government).

Today was different. Very few, if any, road closures, but dozens of smaller protests consisting of hundreds of people a piece popped up across the country, from the North to the South (I’ve seen estimates of about ~60 or so protests of hundreds of people per protest across all of Lebanon), along with a big group (thousands) consisting mostly of women congregating at Riad al Solh square by the end of the night for a candlelight vigil.

11/6/19 (Riad el Solh Square, Beirut) – Candlelight vigil

The stars of the protests today were the high school and university students across the country who skipped school and demonstrated all day (there was a call for students across the country to do so yesterday). It was heartening to see these young people engage in direct action to have a say about the future of the country. I’ve added a couple of videos to this post, but there are dozens and dozens of videos at one of the Facebook pages of the Revolution (Tripoli based; Arabic content for the most part)

Student protests Leb

11/6/2019 – Student Protests Across Lebanon

11/6/19 (Rachaya, in South East Lebanon) – Variety of different protests today: first protest in front of OGERO (telecom); next are student protests at various schools 

There were also many other interesting displays of civil disobedience, including protesting in front of major companies perceived to be corrupt (like Alfa, EDL, OGERO etc), protests in front of banks (I saw a few groups of protesters calling for the “downfall of the capitalist system”), banging on pots and pans as a symbol of support for the uprising, and an attempt to reclaim public spaces across Beirut (for example, the attempt to reclaim public beach property that was illegally built on by various private developers, with Eden Bay and its owner Wissam ‘Achour being particular targets of protester ire).

As a side note, for people who may not be familiar with the history, the banging of pots and pans dates back to 1916 in Lebanon during the great famine, when locusts devastated crops. People banged pots to chase away the locusts. As such, the banging of pots and pans is trying to draw a parallel between the state of hunger back then (because of the locusts), and the state of hunger today (because of the politicians), essentially making the analogy between locusts and politicians. It’s powerful symbolism.

11/6/19 (Riad Al Solh Square, Beirut) – Large group of female demonstrators banging on pots and pans while they hold candles

11/6/19 (Eden Bay) – Protesters calling Wissam Achour (Eden Bay developer) a thief

 

There’s talk tomorrow of a day of action to remove politicians’ pictures from walls and public property in Tripoli (and across Lebanon?), which, if you’ve ever been to Lebanon, you notice literally anywhere and everywhere, and discussions of different ways to continue putting pressure on the government to act.

As always, my love and admiration to everyone on the ground working hard to change the country for the better. You give us hope.

11/6/19 (Riad Al Solh Square, Beirut)

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Lebanon Uprising (Day 13): Hariri’s Resignation

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Hariri resignation

Saad Hariri presents his resignation amidst Lebanon uprising

Saad Hariri (our PM) finally resigned after 13 days because of pressure from the street. He supposedly offered to reshuffle the cabinet, with a recommendation to remove Gebran Bassil (Aoun’s son in law and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a.k.a. Hela Hela Ho) but was essentially told it was a red line; thus the resignation. There are also rumors that MBS in Saudi forced Hariri’s hand and asked him to resign, although it’s unclear how true that is.

My understanding of what happens next according to our Constitution is that:

1) Our President (Michel Aoun) will accept Hariri’s resignation. Contrary to what people are suggesting online, Aoun doesn’t really have a choice to reject it; he will accept it per formality. The situation in 2017 when Hariri was kidnapped and beaten by the Saudi regime and resigned from Riyadh was different because it was under duress and therefore his resignation was rejected.

2) Aoun will then consult with parliament and then appoint a new Prime Minister.

3) The new PM will be responsible for putting together a new cabinet.

However, this whole process could take forever, and there are many outstanding questions:

1) Who will Aoun appoint as PM? All the “big names” (like Miqati, our former PM) are tainted by corruption and would surely be unacceptable to the protesters.

2) If they do find a PM, what will the cabinet look like? What names would be acceptable? Will this, at the end of the day, be a cosmetic exercise in musical chairs?

3) Will fresh Parliamentary elections eventually be called? If so, based on what electoral law?

4) How badly will the economy deteriorate in the meantime? There could be a serious currency crisis that could devalue the lira vs the dollar, and/or debt crisis on the horizon.

5) How will the Lebanese street react to all of this? One of the clearest demands of the uprising has been to get rid of the entire political class.

6) How will Hizballah react to this? Nasrallah is giving a speech on Friday, so TBD.

Finally, one note of caution regarding the unity of the uprising. There exists a counter-revolutionary current (see previous post) that could threaten the uprising. In fact, one of the threats to the protest movement at this point is a hijacking or a co-opting of the movement by “March 14”, with the resulting politicization of the uprising into the old March 14 vs March 8 camp, or alternatively, the development of a “Revolution vs Resistance” narrative by the pro-Hizballah camp that portrays the uprising in nefarious terms (with accusations of foreign funding etc; see previous post for more detailed discussion).

The protesters so far have been incredible and they’ve already accomplished so much. Here’s hoping that they remain united, steadfast and independent in pushing for their vision of a new Lebanon, free of the old and corrupt political class that has completely destroyed the country. We are with you!

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Lebanon Uprising (Day 13): More Attacks Against Protesters

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thug 2 riad al solh

10/29/19 (Riad Al Solh Square) – Widely shared photo of Amal thug threatening to beat defenseless woman (not my photo)

Thug Riad al solh

10/29/19 (Riad Al Solh Square) – Widely shared photo of Amal thug beating defenseless protester (not my photo)

Supporters of the Amal movement (pertaining to our corrupt speaker of the House Nabih Berri) absolutely wreaked havoc today in Beirut, more specifically beating up protesters on Ring Road who were blocking the bridge and then going down to Riad Solh and destroying the tents and encampments in the square, as well as beating more protesters present at the time. Some really ugly scenes there (see videos and pictures below), where thugs were intimidating and beating up everyone, including women. Pure unadulterated cowardice that has been met by revulsion across the country.

I should also mention that there’s some controversy around whether Hizballah supporters were among the thugs, or whether it was solely Amal. In the interest of fairness and integrity, it’s important to note that it’s not 100% clear at this point. Nasrallah asked his supporters to leave the streets on 10/25/19, and although we do know for sure that there were chants / expressions of support for Nasrallah and Hizballah coming from these people, some have said that Amal thugs have a history of using these chants to fool people into thinking they’re Hizballah (there have been some tensions between the organizations over the past year). If you have more information, please let me know, but regardless and at a minimum, we can say that Hizballah didn’t disapprove of the displays of violence today (whether they participated or not).

10/29/2019 (Ring Road, Beirut) – Thugs beating up on peaceful protesters  (not my video)

10/29/19 (Ring Road, Beirut) – Amal supporters cursing and throwing rocks at peaceful protesters, claiming they are supporters of the Resistance while chanting for Nabih Berri

10/29/19 (Ring Road, Beirut) – Thug expressing his support for Nasrallah (saying “anyone against Nasrallah should immediately leave”). Unknown whether this is a Hizballah supporter or an Amal supporter feigning support for Nasrallah, as discussed in post

10/29/19 (Riad Al Solh Square) – Thugs beating up protesters. A picture of the woman running away in this video while being threatened with a wood stick has already become an iconic picture that has been widely shared

10/29/2019 (Riad Al Solh Square) – Thug pushing down a defenseless woman from behind (not my video)

10/29/19 (Riad Al Solh Square) – Thugs destroying protester tents

Lebanon Uprising (Days 9,10,11): Some Observations

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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.

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Lebanon Uprising (Day 9): Attacks against Protesters

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Hezbollah and Amal supporters clash with protesters (Image Credit: Twitter)

Today 10/25/19 was a really tough day for the Lebanon uprising. Hizballah and Amal supporters went down to Riad Solh square (in Beirut) and intimidated and assaulted entire crowds of peaceful protesters. FPM supporters did the same in Jbeil. The Lebanese Forces, who had 4 ministers resign last week, have been trying to co-opt the movement in Jal-el-Deeb and trying to present themselves as part of the people (stop dreaming).

10/25/19 (Ring road) – Hizballah and Amal supporters (in black) assault peaceful protesters (see 0:17 where a girl gets knocked out), and proceed to dismantle protesters’ tents

10/25/19 (Riad Al Solh Square) – Nasrallah asking Hizballah supporters (who are beating protesters) to leave the squares; Nasrallah says “we can defend the resistance” (not my video)

10/25/19 (Riad Al Solh Square) – Hezballah and Amal supporters (in black) throwing projectiles at protesters; one supporter is heard in background insisting that no one insults Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

The lines are starting to become clearly drawn between those who are trying to subtly (or not so subtly) undermine the uprising (the corrupt political class and committed members of those sectarian political parties who stand to lose the most by virtue of this government falling), those who are trying to exploit it for opportunistic gain (e.g. Lebanese Forces) and those who support it (almost everyone else). The scenes today were disheartening, and I fear that the uprising will be a dragged out affair, with the ruling class counting on physical and emotional exhaustion of protesters and /or internal divisions to disintegrate it.

On the other hand, I’ve been heartened to see calls for a million-man show of support for the uprising tomorrow (on 10/26/19) and a human chain from Sour to Tripoli, from the very South to the very North of the country (on 10/27/19).

To the protesters: we are with you, and we’ll do our best to support you even though we are oceans away. Don’t lose hope, and stand strong and proud. Don’t let thugs intimidate you. This is your best chance to change the country for the better, and for all of us. Nothing but love and admiration to you all.

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Lebanon Uprising (Day 9): Nasrallah’s Second Speech

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So I finally had a chance to listen to Nasrallah’s speech

 

Some of the more salient points are as follows:

1) Nasrallah categorically rejected the fall of the government, the dissolution of parliament and the call for early elections

2) He fear-mongered about the country falling into a vacuum in case the government fell; thus the need to maintain the current government

3) He commended the reforms proposed by our PM Hariri and suggested that this was an accomplishment due to the protesters and that the government was serious about implementing these reforms

4) He payed lip service to economic demands by protesters and asked them to designate representatives to negotiate with the government

5) He cast aspersions on the sources of funding for the protests, mentioning political sects and foreign embassies as possible “behind the scene” actors that were partially bankrolling the protest movement and that were trying to exploit the situation, and made strange accusations about people checking IDs at roadblocks (silently alluding to the worst days of the civil war), and asking for bribes to allow cars to pass through

Surely Nasrallah knows that the majority have no faith in this government’s ability to rule or to implement any of the proposed reforms. His speech will probably be satisfying only to committed Hizballah supporters (and their allies). Everyone else will be somewhere between disgusted and disappointed (especially the allegation of foreign funding). I know several well-known Lebanese leftists who expressed disappointment. After hearing his first speech at the beginning of the uprising, I’m not too surprised by this speech. At this point, it’s clear that Nasrallah is throwing his lot with the ruling class and providing cover for the corrupt government.

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Lebanon Uprising (Day 8): Aoun’s Speech

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I’m watching Aoun’s speech again (our president), and I just can’t get over how amateurish this is.

 

I was angry in the morning, but now I can’t stop laughing every time I see the change in angle in the video (for example between 0:35 and 0:41, and again between 1:57 and 1:59, where his fingers on his left hand change positions, thus confirming this was not recorded live). It literally feels like a 10 year old stitched this together as his first media project and proudly displayed it to the world. Also, it feels like he’s barely alive. Struggling to pronounce words, slurring some of them; he’s clearly in ill health.

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Lebanon Uprising (Day 7): Nabatiyyeh

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Protesters Nabatiyyeh

Demonstrators shout slogans during an anti-government protest in the southern city of Nabatiyyeh, Lebanon, on Thursday. (Reuters)

Some more details on the situation in Nabatiyyeh (South Lebanon) today, where peaceful protesters were assaulted by the municipality’s police, who belong to Amal and Hizballah. You rarely hear criticism of Hizballah by the locals there who tend to be very supportive of the party, so this is an important development. Salute to the protesters and people of Nabatiyyeh for standing their ground.

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10/23/19 (Nabatiyyeh) – “This is how it all started in Nabatieh when the peaceful protestors were attacked. Lebanese army came afterwards and separated both groups. More protestors are joining and they’re refusing to leave the street. This city isn’t getting enough coverage, please share”

10/23/19 (Nabatiyyeh) – Young man describing how peaceful protesters were assaulted by the municipality’s thugs.

10/23/19 (Nabatiyyeh) – Powerful series of interviews (by Al Jadeed News) with the locals of Nabattiyeh who witnessed the assaults earlier in the day. Stinging criticism of Amal and Hizballah. Rarely do you hear criticism of Hizballah in the area, as the locals tend to be very supportive of the party.

10/23/19 (Nabatiyyeh) – Despite the assaults earlier in the day, the people of Nabatiyyeh remained steadfast and continued protesting throughout the night.

10/23/19 (Tripoli, North Lebanon) – Tripoli, who so far is the shining light of this uprising, sends Nabatiyyeh a message of solidarity: “Nabatiyyeh, Tripoli is with you until death” (not my video). In a tough day for the uprising, heartwarming to hear messages like this

Lebanon Uprising: Senpai Noticed Us

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Senpai noticed us

Feels like a case of “Senpai Noticed Us” when Lebanese Americans (and Arab Americans) get excited because Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders tweets about the Lebanon uprising to express their support and their desire to help.

I’ll try to be succinct on this point: one of the worst possible developments that could happen to this uprising is formal (or informal) support and/or help by the US government or US government officials (and I just saw that a senior US official in the State Department also expressed support). We’re already hearing our corrupt Information Minister talking about “foreign agendas” and the oligarch controlled TV stations constantly asking whether “foreign hands” are at play. The truth is that US government support is the death-knell of any popular movement in the Arab Middle East. The vast majority of people in the Middle East do not trust the US government (and rightfully so). Even if their support was sincere (and people have every right to be skeptical about that), the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.

And to be clear, I’m talking specifically about the US government or people in the US government, not regular people. On the contrary, human to human solidarity in times like this is a must, and the outpouring of support from American friends has been very much appreciated.

Lebanon Uprising (Days 1-5): Some Observations

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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!