Beirut, 10:57 pm, Friday 8 November 2019
The last eight days have seen a major reinvigoration after a relatively short lull in the energy of the Lebanese protests. Students, teachers, and professionals mobilized in ever-greater numbers, making demands that are both specific and broad. Importantly, many of the protestors are organizing more loosely, in their neighborhoods as well as within and between different organizations. Previous organizing, around public space, military retirements, general amnesty, and citizenship law, have found renewed urgency and new publics.
Various groups called for vast protests and a show of force and unity last Sunday. That day saw a large feminist march from the national museum to downtown Beirut, where it merged with the an even larger protest underway. Sunday was the second largest protest in downtown Beirut since the beginning of the movement over three weeks ago. The feminist march included demands for women to be able to pass citizenship to their spouses and children, a unified personal status law, and the end of sectarianism and its patriarchal structure and ideology. The chants included insisting on women’s bodily integrity and freedom in public, a focus on class politics, ending homophobia, and calling for women’s economic, political, and bodily autonomy and equality. This significantly large feminist march merged with the other, and even larger, group gatherings in Martyrs’ Square and Riad al Solh. Sunday also saw evry large protest gatherings in the cities of Tripoli and Saida.
Also on Sunday, the Free Patriotic Movement called on their supporters to gather at the presidential palace, where President Aoun—who founded the FPM—made a live speech. Gebran Bassil, the President’s son-in-law and Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has been a particularly popular target of the protests—also spoke in person to the crowd, which was much smaller than the protests associated with the popular mobilizers across the country.
The first half of the week saw an intensification of roadblocks, leading to increased standoffs with the army as it tried to open the streets. The protestors shifted tactics mid week to focus on more targeted and direct actions and strategic gatherings in main squares throughout the country. Specific institutions and symbols of state corruption and paralysis were targeted. This includes everything from Electricité du Liban, current and former ministers houses, the President’s residence, the Ministry of Education, at private bank braches, the Central Bank, to stretches of privatized ‘coastline in Beirut. People who were hanging out on the corniche of Ramlet al Bayda joined the protestors as they marched. When protestors reached Eden Bay they broke cinder block walls and marched to the shore. Eden Bay is a private beach resort that activist and civil society groups have argued for years is improperly privatized public property and goods; the coastline and the sea. It is important to note that most of Beirut’s coastline has been improperly privatized, including the military officers’ club, private beach clubs, and AUB beach. Protesters also amassed in front at the Bisri valley to protest the illegan construction of the dam which would displace residents and do major environment and ecological damage. In Nabatiyya, protestors were able to close both branches of both the Central Bank and Electricité du Liban.
In Tripoli, people last week removed the all politicians' photos and banners associated with the political class. Activists in Beirut plan to follow suit in the coming days.
Students of all grades came out in force this week. They were from elementary and especially from secondary schools, from public and private, including parochial, institutions. Every corner of the country saw student walkouts and protests. These walkouts effectively shut down schools for several days. University students from private and public institutions also walked out of campus and protested, with the Lebanese University being a major site of mobilization, particularly in its main campus in Hadath.
The Public Prosecutor’s office has launched investigations into former PM Fu’ad Sinioura and current customs authority chief, Badry al-Daher, while a lawyer lodged an official complaint of corruption against current Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. People are skeptical as to the outcomes of these investigations, as a major demand of the protests are laws that guarantee judicial independence and autonomy.
President Michel Aoun has yet to begin parliamentary consultations on a new Prime Minister, which he is required to do constitutionally. Since former (and now caretaker) Prime Minister Hariri resigned on 30 October, no replacement has been named. Talks are apparently breaking down as to the nature of the government. One side, the President, Hasan Nasrallah, and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, is insisting on a government made up of both technocrats and political appointees, headed by Saad Hariri. Hariri has stated that he will not head any government that includes political appointees in an attempt to ride the waves of the popular mobilizations. There is a growing fear that if a government is formed without Hariri or his backing, international sanctions, led by the US, will intensify and widen. The protesters, however, have continued to remind the public that Saad Hariri and his father before him, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, are also implicated in corruption, graft, and the neoliberal reforms that restructured the economy and led to the hyper concentration of wealth and the erosion of the middle class.
The banks reopened on Friday 2 November, after being closed for two weeks. Different branches saw lines that lasted hours as people tried to cash checks, withdraw dollars, and transfer between accounts. Banks have capped all US dollar transactions; this cap has changed several times in the last week and varied between banks. The Central Bank has yet to issue a public directive related to what many fear is a run on the banks, which would in turn trigger a currency crisis and at least a partial collapse of the banking sector.
As of this writing, protestor demands continue to coalesce around corruption and accountability, a new technocratic and independent government, early parliamentary elections, and an independent judiciary.
Beirut, 11:56 pm, Wednesday 30 October 2019
Today President Michel Aoun announced that Saad al-Hariri would continue as prime minister in a caretaker capacity, a constitutional formality so that cabinet can continue to function. Hariri’s group also announced that he would not accept a (non-caretaker) reappointment to the role without concessions from Hizballah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) as to the makeup of the government. Lebanon has entered a stage ruled by bureaucratic and constitutional procedures, whereby the formation of a successful new government may take months. Each person designated as a prime minister would have two weeks to try to form a government. This timeframe may cut the momentum of protests, and thus far many of the protestors have refused it. There are emerging disagreements among protesters as to how to proceed in light of Hariri’s resignation and the resulting constitutional process. Some argue that actions should be more directly aimed at politicians until the goals are achieved. Others argue that their real strength and bargaining power is in the streets.
In that spirit, many protestors returned to the streets across the country in great numbers to continue to call for accountability for political and economic corruption, as well as to call for the immediate formation of a technocratic government and early parliamentary elections. Many segments are calling for concrete steps toward ending political sectarianism. Violence also escalated today, with the day and night seeing the army and security forces forcibly dispersing protestors in Saida, near Tripoli, and in Akkar—where the army appeared to open fire on or near gatherings. In Saida, there were three casualties among the protestors.
Allies of the Future Movement (Hariri’s political party) blocked previously opened roads in areas around Beirut and Khalde. Hundreds of protestors returned and closed the Ring highway near Burj al-Ghazal, where they clashed with the army. Other protestors closed roads in new parts of the country, including (reportedly) on the Chtoura/Masna' roads, close to the border with Syria.
Universities across Lebanon, public and private, announced early today that classes would resume tomorrow (Thursday). The Lebanese University, the only public university in Lebanon, retracted its statementn in the afternoon in response to faculty and student organizing. At other universities, faculty and students organized a response stating that not everyone would be returning to business as usual this week. Many public and private K-12 schools also announced that they were closing. Late in the evening, the Minister of Education issued a statement saying that university and school administrations could use their own discretion in deciding whether to hold or cancel classes based on the events as they develop.
Banks will remain closed to the public until Friday, but have indicated they plan to open then with extended hours.
There were rumors earlier in the day today that the army would declare a state of emergency. But the army leadership quickly declared these reports false.
After intense celebrations and sober assessments last night and this morning, the national mood has returned to apprehension and tension.
Beirut, 11:55pm, Tuesday 29 October 2019
Numerous, yet unconfirmed, reports indicate that Hariri’s resignation as prime minister comes at the collapse of talks between different power brokers to make a unified set of political concessions. In this narrative, the key disagreements revolved around when and how to make concessions vis-a-vis reasserting control over the streets. Some of these reports also discuss pressure from Saudi Arabia to resign immediately. There was previous talk of Hariri resigning in order to form a new government, which is a different scenario than what appears to have happened.
Immediately after Hariri’s resignation, protestors returned in larger numbers to main squares and roads throughout the country. In Beirut, protesters did so to reclaim their spaces almost immediately after they had been beaten and scattered. They rebuilt tents that had been torn down or burnt, picked up debris, and re-organized. By the early evening, crowds had grown significantly large in downtown Beirut, once again gathering into organic and organized political conversations and chanting.
Many are scared of what is to come, but the power of the moment remains palpable and people are careful to recognize and preserve it as a victory. They are also adamant that the power of the street was a—if not the—major contributing factor behind Hariri’s resignation. Many continued to demand the resignation of the president and the speaker of parliament, as well as that of the parliament and new elections according to a new electoral law.
Hariri appears to have resigned without having first negotiated with his many partners in government. This has put the onus on President Michel Aoun to begin, in accordance with tradition and formal procedure, either the process of consultations and forming a new government through a new prime minister or to agree to conditions that might allow Hariri (or an ally) to form a new cabinet. Key to any political calculus is Hizballah, which is the strongest and best organized political and military group in Lebanon. Aoun became president based on the strength given to him through an alliance with Hizballah. Thus far, the majority of protestors on the street are stating that none of these scenarios are agreeable to them. They want Aoun himself to resign from the presidency and all politicians, former and current, to be held accountable for corruption and negligence.
Beirut, 4:45pm, Tuesday 29 October 2019
In his televised speech today at 4pm Beirut time, Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri announced his intention to resign. Hariri claimed he was responding to the demands of the people and that "no body is bigger than his country." Shortly after his speech, the social media account of the presidency showed a picture of Hariri handing in his resignation to President Aoun. Worth noting that the Interior Minister thereafter tweeted that Hariri's resignation was "necessary" to avoid "civil violence," referring to scenes from earlier this morning when groups of men arriving in vans and motorbikes attacked protesters.
In areas that protesters are gathered, many are now celebrating Hariri's resignation and the given cabinet dissolution. At the same time, personal accounts regarding the attempts to clear Ring Highway and downtown Beirut from this morning are increasingly making the rounds on social media. There is a simultaneous sense of relief/euphoria and uncertainty among some sectors of protesters in Lebanon. One of the key demands of protesters in Lebanon has now been accomplished: resignation of the cabinet, although it was more a function of the prime minister's resignation than a collective action on the part of both he and his ministers. What remains to be seen is how protesters will respond in regard to maintaining street occupations and blockades, what agreements/disagreements among establishment political parties undergirded Hariri's resignation, and how each dynamic will affect the other.
Beirut, 3:00pm, Tuesday 29 October 2019
Reports that Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri will announce his resignation have circulated all day today. Major news outlets began reporting that this was all but a given and that he would announce it formally in a press conference at 4 pm. Around 1 pm, live television coverage showed vans and motorcycles of men arriving to the road closures at the Ring highway and forcibly opening them by beating demonstrators and destroying their blockades. Initially, police and army stationed in the area attempted to separate the men from the protesters before seeming to give up. In some cases, they appeared to move the police/military barricades to let the men through. Clashes escalated when these groups of men moved toward downtown Riad al-Solh and Martyrs’ Square, forcibly taking down—and in some cases burning—the tents, beating people who remained there, and ultimately chasing people into neighboring areas and side streets.
#Lebanon Prime Minister Hariri scheduled to give a speech in 10 minutes (4pm Beirut time). Reports have circulated all day that he will announce his resignation. Major news outlets began reporting it this morning, claiming it was all but a given.#LebanonProtests#لبنان_ينتفض— Jadaliyya (@jadaliyya) October 29, 2019
Beirut, 1:05am, Tuesday 29 October 2019
By many accounts, the twelfth day of protests (Monday, 28 October) was the tensest thus far. The country was on edge, as various news—both verified and unverified—circulated throughout different sectors. Several countermeasures were put into effect against the protests and the people. This included cordoning off and compartmentalizing spaces in downtown Beirut in order to monitor and direct movement; leveling accusations against the protests as being funded by foreign interests; circulating disinformation campaigns and personal attacks against various individuals; and in general, placing blame on the protests for the worsening economic crisis (explicitly citing the road closures). In Saida, the army tried to forcibly open roads, beating several protesters and arresting others. In Sur, thirteen people were arrested, including several minors. In several cities, protesters used their cars and other objects to fortify their roadblocks as the emphasis on shutting down transportation routes continues.
Director of the Central Bank of Lebanon, Riad Salameh—who has been named consistently in protests demanding his resignation—appeared in a CNN interview today. He stated that the Lebanese economy was days away from collapsing as a result of the ongoing demonstrations. In a statement to Reuters later in the day, he tried to "clarify" his earlier statement, saying that his intention was express the view that there were only a few days to find a political solution in order to avoid financial collapse. He clarified that the Central Bank would continue to strengthen the lira and resume banking as usual when the banks reopen. The banks will remain closed tomorrow (Tuesday, 29 October). While the precise nature of the meeting was unclear, President Michel Aoun met early today with the presidents of AUB and USJ. The two institutions had issued a joint statement in support of protesters two days earlier.
Various municipalities were the center of new developents today. In Nabatiyya, a member of the municipal board who had resigned earlier this week retracted his resignation, citing his obligation to the party and the voters who elected him. In Tripoli, a small group of protesters briefly stormed through the municipality, disrupting the business day and shouting revolutionary slogans.
Beirut, 11:48pm, Sunday 27 October 2019
Over the past two days, banking secrecy laws were lifted on the accounts of a number of second-tier politicians. This came as a response to one of the earliest demands by demonstrators for transparency and accountability in the financial accounts of the political leaders. Despite the fact that it was framed as fulfilling of one of the public’s demands, it did not register highly with many quarters. Most want the procedure applied to all politicians. Some perceive the nearly ten-day delay in its implementation as indicating that the truly incriminating details had been carefully erased before lifting the secrecy laws. For others, even if banking secrecy is lifted in Lebanon, many politicians and their relatives and allies keep accounts abroad. There is also the fact that banking secrecy alone does not shed light on all the assets owned by targeted politicians, such as real estate and company shares.
Protesters returned to the streets of Sur, following a few days of silence after death threats had been publicly issued against anyone who dared demonstrate. Protesters also continued to gather in critical mass in areas around Nabatiyya—especially in Kfar Rumman, which saw an outpouring of people throughout the day. Kfar Rumman has historically been an epicenter of a communist south Lebanese “belt”, and a vast majority of the demonstrators claimed continuous membership in that party. By many accounts, it was the largest outpouring of communist-identified protestors in one space thus far in the nationwide mobilizations.
Clashes between army and protestors continued in Beddawi, Tripoli, earlier today. Nevertheless, demonstrators kept showing up, maintaining the densely packed presence in Sahat al-Nur, one of Tripoli’s main squares, and spilling out to neighboring streets. Tripoli continues to be invoked by many people throughout the country as an inspiration to their mobilization, and has helped shift the focus away from Beirut as a center and referential driver.
In Beirut’s downtown protest area, open discussions hosted by coordinating groups in shared tents have increasingly revolved around the issue of what the Lebanese legal and constitutional framework offers as a way forward. Lawyers, as well as members of the judges' syndicate, have held a number of open discussions in order to address several concerns that are raised by various sectors on the ground. Primary among them is whether the Lebanese constitution and legal framework is equipped with mechanisms for a national paradigmatic shift, and whether the government resigning would create a governance “void.”
The Association of Bakers issued a statement saying that wheat supplies were low and estimated there was enough for another twenty days.
Throughout the country, protesters are regularly inventing new slogans, chants, songs, and vocabularies, both to maintain momentum as well as to capture the changing dynamics vis-a-vis the political elite’s responses. A great many of these chants and songs are based, either lyrically or musically, on popular children’s songs, or popular folk songs--as such, most people already know the tune, only the words change their import. The slogans and chants invoke a range of ideas, demands, and subjects, including calling for the end to patriarchy, homophobia, sectarianism, neoliberal reforms, and runaway capitalism. Other popular signs and slogans include those stating that Lebanon’s "debt" is in fact "theft" by the political elites, as well as signs citing Lebanon’s economic and political state as responsible for the “tears of every family” who has lost someone to emigration.
Across the country, thousands of people responded to a call to link arms from Tripoli to Sur, in a “human chain” whose purpose was to demonstrate unity in the face of political elite’s corruption. The human chain also came under critique for being a mainly symbolic event that drew away from the power of occupying major squares and throughways. Different actions, events, strategies, and tactics continue to be debated and planned across Lebanon.
Today was day eleven of the protests. Other than the opportunistic resignation of the four cabinet members affilaited with Lebanese Forces, no one from the cabinet, parliament, other national government insitution has resigned.
Beirut, 11:56pm, Saturday 26 October 2019
Mass protests and road closures continued throughout the main cities, as well as the towns and villages across Lebanon. Several new demonstrations poppsed up where they had not previously been, such as Baaqline in the Chouf. In Beddawi, Tripoli, the army tried to forcibly open roads while protesters resisted those attempts. The army opened fire in a stated attempt to disperse the crowds resulting in a number of casualties. Many of those scenes were filmed and distributed on social media with a resulting outcry. The Lebanese Army issued a statement describing its version of events and announcing that it would open an investigation into the incidents. A decision was reached today by the Lebanese Security Forces to forcibly open blocked roads across the country.
In Beirut, the demonstrations seemed to grow ever more coherently organized in terms of many different planned actions all with one purpose: occupy space. These actions included holding various public debates around matters relating to the economic, legal, and constitutional circumstances in Lebanon. In different tents, lawyers are offering free legal support to protestors let go from jobs' doctors are offering free medical support' university psychologists are offering free therapy, inlcuding therapy for youth and children.
Professors of the Lebanese University (LU) issued a public statement unequivocally supporting the public mobilizations and their right to free speech. They cited the longstanding negligence of the state toward the institution, its faculty, and students. It is worth noting that as recently as this past summer, LU faculty were on strike around issues of salary non-payment and non-commensurability, expansion of university research budget, and pensions and benefits. AUB and USJ coordinated marches of faculty and students to meet at a mid-point which overlooked the main arenas of demonstrations. Approximately five thousand people walked from their respective campuses and united to block the main highway.
This weekend also featured planefuls of Lebanese émigrés returning to join the protests.
There are thematic parallels being drawn by observers between the mass protests in Lebanon and those happening in Iraq; the latter having been met with greater state violence with at least fifty people killed this week. The mass mobilizations in both Lebanon and Iraq center on economic corruption and political sectarianism. While connections between the two places are being drawn on social media, this has not yet translated into a strong discursive presence on the ground.
Beirut, 11:59pm, Friday 25 October 2019
In both main arenas of Tripoli (Nur Square) and Beirut (Martyrs' and Riad al-Solh squares), protesters continued to lay the infrastructural groundwork intended to maintain an emphatic presence: the number of tents are increasing each day in both cities’ squares; unified, coordinated efforts for medical attention; various systems for the provisioning of food and water; active and intentional spaces for discussion; coordinated cleanup and recycling efforts. In Tripoli, demonstrators came out organized along professions of doctors, engineers, and lawyers as part of a coordinated effort announced by a statement issued the day before. In Beirut, regular teach-ins and classes are held by practitioners and university faculty throughout the day, on topics including public space, citizenship, and the economic state of the different areas of Lebanon. Lights were strung up today, to allow for those who would be staying overnight.
But developments took a sharp turn late in the afternoon when Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah gave a 75-minute speech. It was broadcast live on many stations, but also on loudspeakers in Martyrs’ Square and in squares throughout the country. Nasrallah directly addressed the protestors and framed the current situation in Lebanon in national and regional terms. Hizballah reaffirmed its opposition to both a cabinet resignation and early parliamentary elections. He warned of a political vacuum and ensuing economic crises should those things come to pass. Nasrallah reiterated President Aoun’s invitation to negotiate with the “leaders” of the protest movement, which has until now deliberately and publicly remained leaderless. He also urged protestors to revisit the economic reforms announced by PM Hariri and stressed that they were in and of themselves victories of the uprising. Nasrallah closed his speech by urging his supporters to withdraw from the protests and warned of the social and economic costs of the blocked main roads, a great many of which have been closed across the country for over eight days. He also publicly warned the protestors that they may be used by political aims not their own, and insinuated that the protests might themselves be funded by other actors, both foreign and local.
A near-immediate response to Nasrallah’s speech was that some protestors released a video featuring a sequence of ordinary citizens stating that they were funding the protests. For a great many protesters and listeners across the board, Nasrallah’s speech this evening provided the clearest indication yet that Hizballah stands with, and is imbricated in, the current government, and has therefore positioned itself against the protestors' main demands—the resignation of the current government.
Groups of Hizballah supporters also appeared in large numbers in key locations across the country, ranging from the Bekaa to Beirut. Some of these men got into physical clashes with a number of protesters that resulted in several injuries. By all counts they outnumbered the police and other security forces. In addition, some groups of protesters were using the same slogans that have been used for days, including “yasqut hukm al-masraf” (down with the regime of banks). However, one marked difference was that unlike the other chants, these stopped short of naming—and implicating—Hizballah in that regime, leading many to believe that these were pro-Hizballah supporters in the crowds.
The day ended with three dynamics at play. First, the momentum of the mass protests persists as roads, schools, and banks continued to be closed. Second, there were sporadic clashes between the army and security forces and protesters, though the motives behind these clashes remain unclear. Finally, a debate has set in among protesters assessing the potential fallout of Nasrallah’s speech and what that might mean for how other elements of the political class will conduct themselves, including those in charge of the state’s coercive apparatus.
Beirut, 11:45pm, Thursday 24 October 2019
Torrential rains fell throughout the day across much of the country, turning streets into rivers and flooding various highways, effectively blocking traffic. Demonstrators pointed to the poor—mainly nonexistent—road drainage that reflects decades of negligent infrastructure policies pursued by their party/state politicians, and as further proof of the need to protest and call for government accountability and an end to corruption. A common refrain was that the road blockades erected by demonstrators were designed to create change such that rain-blocked roads would no longer be a reality.
Despite the rain, demonstrators continued flocking to their usual sites of protest. Raingear was distributed and people got drenched, but spirits were overall high. Around the country, protesters continued to block roads whenever and wherever possible given the changing weather. Baalbak and al-Marj appeared today as sites where direct action was taking place, in addition to the now strongholds of Tripoli, Jal al-Dib, Beirut, Saida, Nabatiyeh, and Sour. Interestingly, in Jal el-Dib and Achrafieh, there were chants for Nabatiyeh, while people from Tripoli traveled to Sour in support.
President Michel Aoun was scheduled to address the public in a live public statement at noon today. It would be his first since demonstrations broke out exactly one week ago. However, his speech—a brief fifteen sentences—did not air until 1:30 pm and was pre-recorded. In his speech, Aoun stated that he supported the protestors in their struggle against corruption and sectarianism, but stressed that government institutions were the only actors who could enact this change. He ended by inviting the movement’s leadership for negotiations. But the movement thus far has refused to identify a leadership, and many protestors have refused the very idea of an organized leadership at this time. Many believe that it is the very "leaderlessness" of the movement that is in large part responsible for its momentum and growth thus far.
Supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) gathered around the Presidential Palace in Baabda to support the president after his speech. One of the FPM leaders clashed with the MTV journalist in a widely-viewed media spectacle.
The banks remained closed for the fifth consecutive day and there are worries that banks will limit withdrawals once they open. For context, it is worth noting that the banks in Lebanon remained open throughout the civil war (1975-1990).
Nabatiyya continued to be a main arena of some of the most intense and sustained friction today. Clashes between protesters and armed men were reported, with multiple injuries. Some reports identified the armed men as Hizballah members, while others claimed they were with the municipal police (the municipality is led by a Hizballah-supported council). In spite of being met with rather regular clashes with various armed forces (whether military or militia), demonstrators kept showing up and occupying the main square. A notable feature was the participation ofa group of businessmen and shopkeepers who indicated their refusal to be co-opted by political leadership in claiming that the maintenance of the status quo was “good for business.” In a major development, at least four members of the Nabatiyya municipality resigned today, with unconfirmed reports of two more resignations; one member, ‘Abbas Wehbe, resigned citing it was in response to the provocations from the day before.
A number of economists, economic journalists, and analysts have over the last few days taken to clarifying and condensing the main issues at stake for the Lebanese body public. Whether in writing or Youtube videos, these resources articulate a common vocabulary and analytical framework that people can use to express their grievances in language that is clearly delivered. Overall, these analysts' critical response to the proposed reforms is that the reforms either (a) do not address the structural problems in the economy; (b) impose solutions that imply more privatization, debt, and lowering of living standards; or (c) “kick the can down the road” rather than confront issues head-on. In general the "solutions" offered by the Hariri and his cabinet are pro-elite in that their interests are not fundamentally touched and the deficits are solved at the expense of the working class and the poor. Moreover, the economic reform plan announced by Hariri lacks any mechanisms of accountability. In the absence of a new government, it effectively tasks the government that people are calling on to resign to reform itself.
In downtown Beirut, protesters continue to reflect a broad, diverse spectrum of class backgrounds, neighborhoods, religions, and gendered and sexual orientation. Over the last few days, these spaces have also seen a range of vendors selling water, juice, Arabic coffee, and mana’eesh, as well as balloons and stuffed animals, Lebanese flags, and an assortments of knickknacks. When considered alongside upscale restaurants and coffee shops that this space has catered to in recent years, one of the most notable and visible changes wrought by the mobilization has been the conversion of the area and neighborhoods surrounding Martrys’ Square and Riad al-Solh into a mixed-class commercial area.
Various strands of organizing continued to be honed along various axes: a group of medical doctors from Rizk Hospital-LAU announced their readiness to be available to protesters whenever needed; several groups, including civil society organizations, united university faculty, and medical doctors have set up spaces in Martyrs’ Square to hold various conversations and hold teach-ins on topics relevant to contextualizing the current political moment, as well as on subjects such as constitutional law and frameworks related to imagining better futures. Just up the road, some AUB faculty claimed space in the “Egg” as a site to hold teach-ins on various subjects related to the mobilizations happening outside, and created a Facebook called “Eggupation” to document and disseminate their efforts. In the parking lot next to the Egg, various organized groups continued to expand their spaces and provide tents where demonstrators can seek shelter and can rest. A soup kitchen was set up today, while food stalls stationed throughout the area, especially on the road connecting Martyrs Square to Riad el-Solh, are multiplying.
The area facing the stairs of al-Amine Mosque is dominated by a loud music scene, interrupted by regular chants. Food and drinking stations as well as public toilets have been installed there. Around the Martyrs' Square statue, a few tents are erected, where people seem to be spending the night. The Samir Kassir Square, close to the Beirut municipality building, has also been reactivated with some events (e.g., a meditation session took place there today), but also by the bars and cafes of Uruguay street which attract a partying youth. All these sites provide various opportunities for multiple users to roam around, chant, rest, eat, take a break, and resume their protests.
Women have continued to play leadership roles throughout the uprising and its locations—despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that sexist framings and attacks on female protesters and journalists continue. Many demonstrators are shouting that this revolution is a feminist and female-led one.
Beirut, 11:59pm, Wednesday 23 October 2019
Demonstrators continued to pour into public areas throughout Lebanon today, heeding calls to effectively strike from work and schools while remaining in the streets and building momentum. Intermittent rain did nothing to either dampen the protesters’ determination and spirit in the street or affect the increasing numbers that arrived. In Beirut, near Riad al-Solh Square, protesters comprising the Unified Front of University Professors and Students closed down a road leading into downtown around noon today.
Day 7 featured a sharpening and escalation of concurrent dynamics on multiple fronts. Protesters organized additional road closures throughout the country. At the same time, violent altercations between protesters and various state and informal security forces in places like Nahr al-Kalb (north of Beirut), Mazra`at Yashouh, Saida, and (most pronounced) Nabatiyya.
Media coverage of the protests and demonstrations in Lebanon also picked up in the last two days, coinciding with cohesive organizing by various civil society and professional groups to disseminate narratives regarding grievances, demands, and involvement that countered what many have unhappily seen as ignorant punditry. Not surprisingly, one of the newer slogans heard today was, “yasqut yasqut ra’y al-experts” (down with “expert” opinions).
Unlike its rather passive response in Beirut, the army tried several times (but eventually gave up) to force open streets in several areas. Nabatiyya in particular featured sustained violent clashes with reports of several protesters injured. There, plain clothed men infiltrated the demonstrations and sit-in. Some reports claim they were municipal police cracking down while others claimed they were Amal Party members. In a phone interview with Al Jadeed, MP Hassan Fadlallah (of the Hizballah-led bloc) claimed that some merchants asked the municipality to open roads for businesses to operate. During the same interview, he also insinuated that the uprising is in danger of being co-opted by the opposing political camp. Whether true or not, developments in Nabatiyya foreshadow the potential for various divisions to emerge between protesters and (different) detractors, and the potential scenarios through which road closures will continue or cease. In Mazra`at Yashouh and Jal al-Dib, people used their cars to block roads. The army in fact attempted to contain and disperse protesters in Jal al-Dib and in downtown Beirut, with little success. Altercations centered on blocked roads and attempts to forcibly open them. Overwhelmed with the number of protesters and their strategic actions during such actions, the army abandoned its attempts. Yet again, it highlighted the near constant move by the government to test the resolve of protesters and capacity of the army and security forces.
Counter demonstrations and counter campaigns are also clearly underway. Amal and Hizballah are not the only political groups who have entered the fray. Neamat Frem of the Free Patriotic Movement joined the protest in Jal al-Dib, but was not welcomed by the crowds. Interviews by multiple TV stations show the Lebanese Forces (LF) also seem to have unofficially participated in protests in some areas. They claim to have received orders from LF leader Samir Geagea not to use symbols or flags. The Kata'ib’s Sami Gemayyel has also called on party members to join the protests without party flags. He claimed to fully support protesters’ demands to force a cabinet resignation and early parliamentary elections. The specter of Gemayyel—a parliamentarian, son of a former president, nephew of a president-elect, a brother and cousin of former and current parliamentarians, and the grandson of the founder of the Phalange (Kata'ib) Party—calling for transparency, accountability, and a technocratic government was largely met with derision. If true, both the Lebanese Forces and the Kata'ib are hedging their bets. They believe bringing down government will put them in a better position vis-a-vis a new cabinet or new parliament. Their organizations also allow them to withdraw from demonstrations or turn on protesters if a deal struck whereby their part of the bargain is to help end protests in certain areas.
One reporter sympathetic with the uprisings claimed that Lebanese President Michel Aoun had initially agreed to a new cabinet led by Saad al-Hariri but without Gibran Bassil and other officials who have been particularly targeted by the protesters. But a last-minute intervention by Bassil prevented that scenario from being implemented. Apparently Bassil convinced Aoun that he would be next after the cabinet and thus needed to keep the cabinet in place to contain the demands of the protesters.
It is worth noting that since the uprising began, Aoun has maintained complete silence and invisibility vis-a-vis developments. However, it was announced today that he is now scheduled to address public tomorrow (Thursday 24 October) at 12 p.m. Beirut time.
Public Prosecutor Ghada Aoun began judicial proceedings against former Prime Minister Najib Mikati (claimed by many reports as the richest man in Lebanon), his brother and his son, and Bank Audi for illegal enrichment and subverting and exploiting government-backed housing loans for personal gain. Several lawyers and activists pointed out that this is the same prosecutor who has previously been at the center of controversies centering on free speech and social media censorship. While lauding the prosecutor’s actions against Mikati, lawyers have also pointed to the double standard in the lack of prosecutorial action against those responsible for beating protestors in Nabatiyya. It is worth following such attempts by those currently in political office to look as if they are satisfying the demands of protesters all while shielding themselves and attacking those not allied with them.
Mainstream media is predominantly covering the protests with live coverage of the gatherings and regular interviews with a range of people. These provide powerful insights on the motives and demands of demonstrators. LBC and Al Jadeed (NewTV) stand out in this respect, with OTV (Free Patriotic Movement) trying diligently to discredit the protesters as violent thugs. In fact, at several locations protesters have kicked out or openly criticized the station and its reporters for being partisan. Interestingly, the regular talk shows featuring current politicians are nowhere to be found—contrary to what normally happens in times of political crisis or deadlock.
The public stage has not been offered to any of the protest groups’ organizers or focal points. Social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) are playing a key role as alternative sources of information about the protests, which are also disseminated via numerous WhatsApp groups that have been created over the past days to enable further organizing and communication. International media is poorly covering the protests, and focusing on its most anecdotal aspects (e.g., CNN on the Baby Shark video, or a protest-cum-rave). This may be explained by the support western governments are openly or tacitly providing to the cabinet, and their combined unwillingness to alter the status quo in Lebanon. But it is also a reflection of the ways that existing frameworks and expertise are incapable of capturing the historic developments in Lebanon or of providing meaningful analysis.
Beirut, 12:30am, Wednesday 23 October 2019
The sixth day of a national revolt in Lebanon featured increased grassroots organizing on several issues and along numerous fronts. Turnout in some parts of the country decreased during the day but surged in the late afternoon and throughout the evening. The Ministry of Education announced educational institutions would open and resume classes on Wednesday, 23 October. In response, a general strike was called for by the faculties and students of all major universities in Lebanon: Lebanese University (the only public university in Lebanon where over 80,000 students are enrolled), AUB, LAU, Arab University, Haigazian, NDU, and Balamand. Many issued statements expressing that the resumption of classes was intended to remove them “from the streets” and that a strike would maintain the presence and momentum of the demonstrations. Toward the end of the day, the Minister of Education reversed his earlier decision and indicated that schools and vocational institutions would be closed on Wednesday, hedging his bets on the question of universities. As of this writing, AUB had officially canceled classes after initially indicating classes would resume tomorrow. Faculty at the universities built on the momentum to organize a meeting near Martyrs' Square in the evening to discuss how to organize across universities and faculties, build solidarity, and present a united front and eventual list of demands. Part of the discussion focused on the varied stakes—public university faculty employees have been, and would be, much more vulnerable to the unfolding dynamics and ultimate outcomes than those at other wealthier, as well as private, institutions.
The question of asymmetrical and uneven stakes has been one that is increasingly informing mobilizations on the ground. As an example, a press conference today announced a list of demands that no less than thirty-six groups signed on to. These ranged from retired soldiers (who had organized against the austerity budget that targeted their retirement salaries) to the Green Party. It also included groups representing Beirut, Tripoli, Nabatieh, Hermel, Zahle, Akkar, and elsewhere throughout the country. However, this list was ultimately rejected by several constellations of other groups who stated they want to remain leaderless. A parallel track of organizing seems to be occurring within professions, with groups of judges, lawyers, engineers, and university professors organizing among their peers and in the name of their professions. These parallel approaches may not indicate a tension, but rather an ongoing conversation as the mass protest continues to grow and diversify while also taking stock of the dilemmas of maintaining momentum.
In a direct and pointed action, a group of judges (not representing or represented by the Ministry of Justice) issued a letter to the Central Bank to request lifting the banking secrecy law from accounts of public officials. They openly expressed the need to hold government officials legally accountable for the mismanagement of public funds.
Protesters also took aim at the Central Bank, which today became a third front for mobilizations. A large group gathered in front of it today, chanting and maintaining a presence long into the night. Several buses of security forces were brought in and parked nearby, though thus far there have been no reports of engaging the protesters.
A major government employee was publicly fired today. Though it was not whom many would have expected (or hoped for): a parliamentarian, minister, or mayor with a reputation for corruption. Nor was it the bodyguard who fired into crowds of protestors in Tripoli. Instead, it was Laure Suleiman, the director of Lebanon's National News Agency. She was simultaneously fired and replaced with someone closer to Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Suleiman gave several interviews where she claimed she was fired because she refused political pressure to not cover or editorialize the ongoing protests. In fact, the national television station, TeleLiban, has not been broadcasting the protests. Its offices were also temporarily taken over by a group of artists and actors at some point during the day in an expression of support for the staff that disagreed with the orders to not cover the mass demonstrations. While they failed to maintain their presence in the offices or get on the air, the development is significant.
There are increasing reports and warnings of imminent gas shortages, as well as complaints from the private sector regarding the difficulty of transporting goods around the country as protesters continue to bravely shut down the roads that form major and minor arteries of the transportation infrastructure.
Early rumors that Prime Minister Saad Hariri has decided to resign and/or reform and appoint new ministers have since been refuted. A list of fourteen names, all of whom were men, has been circulating on social media as potential members of a "technocratic" cabinet (meaning comprised of people people who are considered competent and thus effective in their respective ministerial portfolios). Yet nothing has been confirmed. There is, however, a political utility in the rumors in that they force politicians to publicly state that they are refusing one of the main demands of the protestors (i.e. cabinet resignation) and are instead stubbornly holding onto power.
Road closures into and out of major cities, and between cities and immediate surrounding areas, continued apace today. Noteworthy, however, is that a great many road closures are being done by groups of women. One notable example of the sort that occurred in Akkar, whose main road was closed by planting trees and rigging up a self-irrigating system to maintain them. The confluence of protesting against economic, sectarian, and environmental exploitation on the part of the ruling classes was central to their efforts. The struggle to block or open highways and roads is turning into one of the key strategic points in the effort of the government and the political elites more broadly to declare the mass revolt over.
Relatedly, protests are still going strong across many cities and towns in Lebanon. These include Tripoli, Zahle, and Nabatiyya, with new smaller mobilizations amassing in villages and towns like Bchamoun, Qabb Elias, and Jal al-Dib. Over the course of the last few days, the number of sites for this protests has expanded rather than contracted.
There are many sectors of the Lebanese body public whose rights, demands, and persons remain underrepresented in the protests (at least publicly so). This includes migrant workers (including those of the migrant domestic labor sector) and particularly those activists from within that community who have been working toward social, economic, and political rights that align with many of the protesters' own demands. It also includes Syrian, Palestinian, Iraqi, and Sudanese refugees and economic migrants. Many of them have privately expressed fear of traveling both short and long distances to jobs under conditions whose uncertainty they feel all too easily translates to danger.
Beirut, 3pm, Tuesday 22 October 2019
On the sixth day of protests in Lebanon, massive numbers of people continue to occupy public spaces in major cities and many towns, effectively continuing to shut down business as usual. Banks and schools are officially closed today, whereas the major labor confederation is implementing its general strike.
Some institutions appear to have expected protests to end. Both the American University of Beirut and Lebanese University announced classes would resume tomorrow (Wednesday), expecting students, faculty, and staff to report to campus. Groups of AUB faculty and Lebanese University students each issued statements declaring their own strike tomorrow and their intention to maintain their presence in the streets. Legal Agenda has encouraged employees and workers who are threatened or otherwise punished for not reporting to work tomorrow to reach out to them for legal assistance.
Demonstrations across the country today are a clear rebuke of Prime Minister Saad Hariri's announced economic reforms. Some of these reforms are long overdue. Protesters have since ridiculed Hariri and his cabinet for not implementing them years earlier. Other reforms seek to advance the neoliberal agenda in Lebanon, such as privatizing the telecommunications sector. These were also criticized.
The video from last night featuring Lebanese army personnel intercepting a group of mend carrying Hizballah and Amal flags raised several questions. The leadership of both parties came out claiming they had nothing to do with that group of men. It is not yet clear if this was a failed attempt at intimidation, a testing of the waters, a breakdown of party discipline, or a rogue/imposter element. In all cases, the immediate "winner" of the upside is the Lebanese Army, which came off as protecting protesters. The army issued a statement claiming they will not forcibly block roads around the country will instead try to convince protesters to allow essential supplies through.
Perhaps more important than downtown Beirut is what is unfolding in other areas such as Tripoli, Zouk, Sur, and Nabatiyya. These are the places that made this movement into a national revolt and a threat to all established political groups.
Whatever happens next, protesters have already scored several victories. They are currently engaging the dilemma of maintaining momentum on the street while responding to elite proposals. The near-total silence of the political class since Hariri's announced reforms yesterday highlights the breakdown in their authority and self-perception. They have been crowded out, literally.
As protests continue, there are some possible indications of the government intending. Several buses of security forces parked and unloaded nearby the Central Bank in Beirut. There are unconfirmed reports that staff at Tele Liban have been ordered to not broadcast anything regarding the protests. At least one news outlet has confirmed that a group of protesters (primarily artists and actors) stormed the Tele Liban offices in support of staffers who disagree with those orders. The fate of that struggle is not yet known.
Beirut, 11:55pm, Monday 21 October 2019
On day five of the uprising in Lebanon, crowds continued to gather throughout Lebanon, in particular in Beirut, Tripoli, Zouk, and Zahle. Banks and schools were closed as they were on Friday. Yet today was also the first day of a general strike called for Lebanon’s main labor confederation.
With his infamous seventy-two hours at an end, Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced today what he said were major economic reforms agreed to by the cabinet. These included:
Committing to no new taxes in the 2020 budget.
A fifty-percent cut in the salaries of some current and former public officials, including the president, cabinet ministers, and parliament members.
Increasing taxes on bank profits.
A seventy-percent reduction in the budget of the Council for Development and Reconstruction, in addition to cuts to other state institutions.
Establishment of an anti-corruption committee.
Drafting a mechanism for the restoration of stolen public funds.
Appointing regulatory bodies for the power, telecommunications, and civil aviation sectors.
Privatizing the telecommunication sector.
Expanding state program that supports poor families.
Providing financial backing for housing loans.
Launching investment projects for the northern and southern entrances of the capital Beirut.
However, even as he announced these points of the new program, some members of his cabinet issued statements undermining the very plan.
Hariri’s announced reforms were met with both anger and derision by many sectors of the public. Critics argued that the most of the reforms could and should have happened years ago. Many were infuriated that the government expected to be congratulated for agreeing to do the actual work of government, as opposed to looking after their individual self-interests. His comments also raised what many saw as a glaring contradiction: if the government admits to wrongdoing, corruption, and not prioritizing the well being of the people, how can the people trust this government to reform itself?
In typical fashion, Hariri took the opportunity to state that he personally is fully with the protestors and their demands. Yet he left several major demands unaddressed, including that he and his entire cabinet resign. Furthermore, no plans were announced for holding negligent and corrupt ministers accountable, an action that would require strengthening and insisting upon the independence of the judiciary. It is worth noting that the Syndicate of Judges issued a statement on Friday announcing they stood shoulder to shoulder with the protesters and their demands.
Different groups participating in the protests today issued various lists of demands and conditions to be met. Their demands converged on several points, most notably the resignation of the current cabinet. They differed on other points, in particular, what institutionalizing accountability vis-a-vis the political class would look like. A number of civil society groups held a press conference in the early evening. These include Beirut Madinati, Tahalof Watani, Ketle Wataniye, Marsad Sha`bi, and a few other groups.
There are differences between the demands of the protests and the chants they are using. In particular, there is a difference between calling for the end of the regime, the resignation of the government, and a reform agenda. There are also different scenarios regarding each of these demands. The end of the regime in Lebanon would mean the end of political sectarianism and a unified electoral law that treats the whole of the country as one electoral bloc. The resignation of the government, on the other hand, could mean an army-led transition to new elections and/or the appointment of a technocratic government until new elections can be organized. The resignation of the government is not the same as ending the regime of power, although it may lead to that result. Finally, a reform agenda (which is what Hariri is proposing) would mean that the current government pushes through reforms under a strict timeline. All of these scenarios operate under the shadow of a looming economic crisis. However, in the absence of any mechanism of accountability, the reform agenda would be merely politicians making promises.
One recurring aspect of some public (though not formal) demands heard in some quarters was for the army to take over the government. This suggestion has been met with alarm by other quarters. For the latter group, it is tantamount to advocating perpetuating the system in different clothing. Of course, references to the fate of Egypt are part of these alarms.
There are several strands of internal debate and critique emerging among those gathered at the protests. For example, some protesters brought their domestic servants with them to provide childcare. This was a blatant endorsement and reinforcement of the current status quo in Lebanon that includes the racially and economically structured problematic kafala system. Other criticisms were leveled at the “surprise” some Beiruti protesters expressed that that “even” people in the South were rising up against the political class.
Late evening in Lebanon was punctuated by the social media circulation of videos showing the army clashing with men on motorcycles carrying flags of Hizballah and Amal. Witnesses said that the army had prevented the motorcyclists from attempting to enter the demonstration space downtown. Hizballah and Amal representatives however released statements on social media claiming that this footage was doctored and fake news. The army’s alleged protective role in these videos was not paralleled in the South. There, footage of plain-clothed thugs threatening and beating protesters while security forces or the army watch continue to be recorded.
Beirut, 11:45pm, Sunday 20 October 2019
An estimated two million people protested throughout Lebanon today, according to news wire reports. Crowds were particularly large in Beirut and Tripoli, pushing into main squares and spilling over into buildings, side streets, and bridges. By some estimates, nearly one million people showed up in Beirut alone. They arrived in the late morning and continued arriving well into the evening. The atmosphere was extremely festive, with music blaring from different corners, families milling about, and plenty of creative signs held aloft. Four tents were erected in Martyrs' Square, a “green tent”, a first aid tent staffed by volunteers from AUH, a tent with activities for small children, and a tent that invited people to hold open political conversations with one another. Volunteers handed out water bottles from trucks and vans, while others sold fruit juice out of coolers on the streets. The crowds were enormous, making even wide open spaces feel completely claustrophobic and often bringing movement to a standstill. There were small nodes of political chanting dispersed throughout the space, ranging from now-standard “all of them means all of them,” to a commonly used sexist insult, this time deployed against Gebran Bassil via his mother. One of the largest was organized around a vigil for the two Syrian refugees and workers, Ibrahim Younes and Ibrahim Hussein, who perished in a building fire last Thursday night. The vigil was bookended by chants that named every sectarian leader and called for their resignation, as well as those that listed the offenses and the corruption attributed to those politicians.
Large numbers of people explored the newly accessible “egg”—a theatre whose construction was halted and never resumed after the 1975 war—after protestors broke down the barricades that Solidere had erected around the partially destroyed building on Thursday night. For many, this was the first time they had set foot in a building that had been around most of their lives and is a landmark of Beirut. In previous years the egg was the site of battles between conservationists and capitalists who wanted to tear it down. The crowds were so big and the sight of people rappelling down the side of the building so unfamiliar that cars passing on ‘the Ring’ highway parked on the side of the road and observed the happenings below them. Politicians and civil society groups have issued warnings that the structures of both the Egg and The Grand Theater were unsafe and urged people to be careful.
In Tripoli, crowds also continued to grow, and Marcel Khalife held an impromptu live concert in the middle of the square singing revolutionary songs that have made him famous.
Crowds in Nabatiyya have been swelling since yesterday, with many people having pitched tents in the city center, or stayed without leaving for the last couple of days at least. Reports put the numbers there as large as those in Beirut until today, but as of this writing that has yet to be confirmed.
In Sur, the crowds appeared to have dispersed for the moment, and social media reports point to the clear death threats leveled against protestors by security forces as a main factor.
Security forces and the army began setting up checkpoints around each of the major cities to control access in and out. Many believe that this is designed to cut those cities support lines off from each other, and to prevent residents of surrounding towns and villages from joining the protests, and from coordinating and delivering materials. One unintended result of this has been that greater numbers of smaller demonstrations have sprung up in villages throughout Lebanon.
This day also saw more scrambling by the different political leaders to either co-opt, obfuscate, or respond to the growing numbers of protestors. Two small demos, in Sassine Square in Beirut and in Jal al-Dib, turned out to have been organized by Lebanese Forces, who resigned from cabinet as a bloc last night.
Later in the evening an early draft of PM Hariri’s proposed economic reforms was leaked and released by the media. Almost immediately Walid Jumblatt announced that his bloc would not support them and refused to stay in a government that included Gebran Bassil. He also announced, however, that they would attend a government meeting planned for tomorrow morning. After Nasrallah’s speech the day prior and its reception, protestors alleged that bots were powering the popularity of a pro-Nasrallah hashtag, “Nasrallah is our trust”. They responded with “Nasrallah is one of them,” consonant with one of the main protest slogans, “all of them means all of them.” The garbled messaging by the political class reflects that they are stunned and slow on learning or accepting what the demonstrators are saying.
By the end of the day, a number of lists of demands had been drafted by various groups and were circulating via social media. It wasn’t clear exactly who all of the draftees were, who they represented, or how much popular support they had, as of this writing.
Banks and schools and universities have announced that they will remain closed tomorrow.
Assuming the figure of two million people is true, that is more than a third of the entire country who have taken to the streets. Most importantly, the protests are happening throughout the entire country and not only clustering or centering on the capital, Beirut. The significance of the country-wide protests continues to take on new facets. One of the more retweeted lines included, “the civil war ended on oct 17, 2019.”
Beirut, 11:58pm, Saturday 19 October 2019
As of 3:30 am on the night of Oct 19, enormous crowds with lighters chanted “the people want the fall of the regime” in front of the Serail in Beirut. They did so in defiance of a spate of violence by security forces against peaceful protesters.
Yet it is Sur (Tyre) that has witnessed the most violent suppression of protests by what appear to be Amal militia thugs/strongmen. Videos showed a number of them taking the stick end of Lebanese flags and beating demonstrators, in an act whose deep symbolism cannot go unnoticed and should serve to nuance much of the nationalist flag-waving that has characterized a lot of the protests. There were social media reports claiming that protesters were very clearly threatened with death in Sur if they continued to demonstrate publicly. And yet, as of this writing people have continued to gather there in even greater numbers. Crowds in Tripoli, Zouk, and Jal El Dib, in response to the violence against demonstrators, chanted, “Sur, oh Sur, for you we are in revolt”, an unprecedented public display of unity between cities at geographic and political poles in Lebanon and indicative of a major theme by this day. Across Lebanon, people are expressing that they share a common opponent, the entire political class.
The leader of Hizballah, Hassan Nasrallah, also gave a televised speech today in which he said he expressed empathy with the protestors but asked them for patience and to allow the current government to try to solve the country’s economic crisis. In this way, he echoed the discourse of both Minister Gebran Bassil and Prime Minister Saad Hariri—whose self-imposed and self-granted 72 hour grace period continues to countdown.
Also in Sur, the Resthouse was broken into and burned. It is owned by Randa Berri, wife of the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri; she has been publicly criticized over the last few days for “not allowing people to go to the bathroom without profiting from it”. This attack on the Resthouse must be understood within a discourse of political corruption, back-breaking economic inequality, and the privatization and profiting off of public lands by sectarian leaders and their families, including coastal land. Lebanon has one of the most extreme wealth inequality indexes in the world, and some of the highest concentration of billionaires in the world per capita.
People also reclaimed buildings and spaces that have been closed off to them for decades, notably the famous “egg” near Martyrs’ Square, destroyed during the war, as well as the Grand Theatre by the souks which has been closed to people since 1975 and locked by Solidere. Both buildings were opened by demonstrators who were seen on the roof and hanging out of windows cheering.
As security forces, both state and militia, tried to shut down public demonstrations new ones broke out for the first time in various locations in Beirut as well as in the Metn.
This day also saw plainclothes mukhabarat agents unsuccessfully trying to blend into the crowds in Beirut.
According to Reuters, the last few days have seen 1.2 million people come out to demonstrate throughout Lebanon. For context, an estimated 6.8 million people live in Lebanon, about 75% of whom are citizens.
State security forces appear to be waiting for nighttime to try to forcibly clear spaces, notably in downtown Beirut. Last night tear gas blanketed and scattered people, and security forces conducted mass detentions and kept people overnight before releasing them, many with stories of being beaten by those security forces. Civil society groups have organized legal hotlines for those that may need free legal representation and advice, and have also organized first aid and food and water distribution. As of this writing, large crowds continue to gather in Downtown Beirut and the security forces have not (yet) tried to disperse them.
The chants and demands of protesters continue to focus on the prompt resignation of the entire political class and government, as well as the accountability for corruption. The crowds are growing larger and more diverse by the day. In addition to being from across Lebanon, the crowds are diverse in terms of generation, gender representation, class difference, and in terms of religious and non-religious identities. They are also diverse in terms of their political commitments, as can be seen from the chants and the signs at the protests. What unites them is their refusal to allow political parties and politics to claim the protests or exempt themselves from their main demands. In Beirut, a group of protesters led crowds chanting against racism against refugees and migrant workers, and against the use and normalization of sexist vocabulary within the growing and increasingly organized political movement.
هي الصبية عظيمة، في واحد سألها "ليش عم بتنادي بحقوق اللاجئين نحن لبنانية هون". ردت بهتاف: "باسيل برا برا، لاجئين جوا جوا pic.twitter.com/GtuDAWornW— Amany Khalifa (@Amanykhalefa) October 19, 2019
"'Fag' is not an insult.— Lara Bitar (@LaraJBitar) October 19, 2019
'My pussy' is not an insult.
'Female' is not an insult."
A necessary intervention by leftists in the midst of a mass of people chanting all day about fucking so and so's mothers and sisters. #LebanonProtests #Beirut pic.twitter.com/JFdg4mfgkR
At around midnight the leader of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, announced the resignation of the four Lebanese Forces ministers from the government.
Beirut, 11:00pm, Friday 18 October 2019
The second day of protests saw even significantly larger masses of people gathering in strategic locations in many Lebanese cities, including Beirut, Tripoli, Saida, and Sur, and in front of significant landmarks in places like Nabatiyya and Ghazieh and Baabda. People are also gathering in front of politicians’ homes and government buildings. Smaller protests also broke out in villages throughout the country. In Beirut alone, observers estimated that 10-15K people took to the streets today. They gathered downtown, largely between Riad al-Solh and Martyrs’ Squares, beginning at around noon. Until about 7 pm these gatherings were completely peaceful, and marked by an atmosphere that was simultaneously jubilant, angry, hopeful, and cynical. Protesters of all class backgrounds, areas, ages, sexual identities, and political and religious leanings were present. They carried Lebanese flags as well as banners proclaiming everything from the rejection of the ‘government of the pact’ (hukumat al-'ahd) to declaring Lebanon a country of workers and not capitalism. Chants were marked by humor, creativity, and insults, as well as emphatic demands for economic, social, and political justice: repeated demands included the resignation of each and every publicly named sectarian party leader. At around 7 pm, the state appeared to have taken a decision to clear downtown Beirut—blanketing protesters with tear gas and advancing in order to disperse them. Many left, but as of this writing, many protesters are still holding their ground.
There is not one community in Lebanon that has not risen against their so-called sectarian representatives. In Tripoli, the second-largest city in Lebanon, people gathered to protest at the home of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who has been labeled the richest man in Lebanon. In Ghazieh in southern Lebanon, young men literally brought down structural symbols of the Speaker of Parliament and the head of the Amal party, Nabih Berri. In a school carrying Berri’s name, people slashed a banner of his face and a metal frame with Amal flags, which were also slashed. This total rejection of Berri, and by extension how he symbolizes corruption and stasis in Lebanon, from one of his so-called strongholds, is unprecedented. In Tripoli, banners bearing the face of current PM Saad al Hariri were ripped down and burned. Elsewhere, photos of President Michel Aoun were filmed being stomped and burned.
The most consistent demand at all gatherings throughout the country appears to be the resignation of the current government. At around 11:30 a.m., Gebran Bassil, the Minister of Foreign Affairs (and also the head of the Free Patriotic Movement and the son-in-law of President Aoun) gave a public statement. At around 6.30 PM, Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad al Hariri also gave a public statement. Both Bassil and Hariri tried to both co-opt the protests and blame each other’s political blocs for the current political and economic crises. Both men warned the country of worse circumstances if the government were to fall. Neither of them resigned, nor has any politician as of this writing. PM Hariri asked for 72 hours to try to come up with a political solution that he said would address protesters’ concerns, but this request has largely been met with derision from the streets. Shortly after his speech security forces began to try to clear gatherings in Beirut. There is an ongoing crackdown against the protesters and many have been arrested.
Thus far, several men’s deaths have been confirmed. Ibrahim Younes and Ibrahim Hussein—two Syrian workers who died when the store they were sleeping in caught fire, and Mazen al Rahman, who was killed when the bodyguards of former MP Mosbah al-Ahdab opened fire at a gathering in Tripoli. Several others were shot by security forces but their fates remain unknown as of this writing.
These deaths serve as a reminder that despite the plethora of nationalist slogans and flag-waving, citizens are not the only residents of Lebanon whose right to life, dignity, and justice have been affected.
Beirut, 12:30pm, Friday 18 October 2019
The morning after the eruption of mass protests in Lebanon has only confirmed the geographic scope of the demonstrations and other mobilizations. As noted earlier, those following Lebanon closely are not surprised given that limited protests had been organized in different parts of the country and different sectors of the economy over the past few weeks. Yet last night was a tipping point because of the massive scale of the protests.
Social media reports indicate mobilizations in different parts of Beirut, North Lebanon, the Beqaa Valley, Nabatiyya, and the South. While many protesters simply took to the streets to congregate and chant, others have taken to burning tires, shutting down traffic, and attacking symbols of political parties and elected officials. Those in Nabatiyya have attracted particular attention by observers given the unprecedented nature of such open opposition to politicians like Amal leader and Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, as well as the office of Amal and Hizballah MPs, form within one of those parties' most important social bases. Major highways remain blocked, though there appears to be back and forth in certain areas with security forces opening one part as protesters rush to block another part. The extent of state violence is not yet clear, though security forces or the military have engaged protesters in different parts of the country, and there are several reported uses of tear gas. In some instances, security forces or armed guards of politicians have fired their weapons (without any clear indication yet of injuries or deaths). There are increasing reports of coordination between high-level politicians of the desire to impose greater "security measures." What that will look like is not clear, but everything from a complete Internet outage to a massive deployment of the military is circulating as rumor and innuendo. A legal committee to defend protesters has already been formed and a hotline number advertised in case of arrest or detention.
Media interviews with protesters highlight the centrality of frustration with the status quo and the political elites who have created it, rather than any single issue (such as the short-lived proposal to tax WhatsApp use). Given the spontaneous and dispersed nature of the protests, it might be some time until specific demands with collective backing are articulated. Though that process is well underway. For now, it is clear that there is a widespread rejection of the austerity budget of this current government and the broader context of economic mismanagement and corruption of the political class as a whole. Many protesters are on the streets for the first time, while others view it as a return from previous experiences. School and banks are closed today and several unions have declared strikes (the lengths of which is not yet clear). Highways and roads have literally been reclaimed by everyday people as they hold rallies, pray, play football, or even set up tables and chairs to drink coffee on.
Politicians and political parties are scrambling to either contain the situation or exit the current government. The cabinet was scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. today, and the meeting location was initially changed from the Grand Saray in downtown Beirut to the presidential palace in Baabda. But shortly after that announcement, the Interior Minister Raya al-Hasan announced that Prime Minister Hariri canceled the cabinet meeting and would address the country at 3 p.m. Beirut time. The logic behind the decision is not yet clear. On the one hand, he could be planning to announce his resignation. On the other hand, he might be avoiding giving other political parties an opportunity to resign from the government or make new demands. The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the political party of President Michel Aoun and with the most cabinet positions, has tried to deny the reality of protests. Their television station was one of the very few that did not provide live reporting of demonstrations the night they first erupted. Being forced to finally cover the protests, a reporter for the station this morning claimed protests were "not Lebanese." As of writing, the protests are ongoing with little sign of dissipating.
Beirut, 3am, Friday 18 October 2019
From Beirut’s streets, it looks like an exhilarating wave. The spontaneous and unprecedented outpouring of bodies and of anger, grief, and demands is deafening. All across Lebanon, people have taken to the street: from Tripoli to Nabatieh; including Zouk, Kaslik, Beirut, and Sidon. Protestors have blocked the main infrastructural arteries and have effectively paralyzed the country. Thousands are calling for the resignation of the government, the downfall of the regime, and/or the revocation of the austerity budget.
This uprising is only shocking or surprising to those who have not been paying attention to the acceleration of political and economic crises that have been unraveling the country’s fabric for years. The past two weeks alone have seen the devaluation of the pound, gas and bread shortages, massive wildfires that have destroyed what little remains of Lebanese nature, and an unfolding corruption scandal related to the Lebanese government’s inability to deal with the fires.
Today, the government announced a plan to tax all online calling apps, a method of communication crucial to communication, despite that Lebanese pay some of the highest telecom rates in the region. This “WhatsApp tax” may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. However, this is not a “WhatsApp revolution” or any other lazy tagline. In fact, the Lebanese government withdrew from the plan to tax in an attempt to quell protests. But the people remain on the streets, vowing to stay until the entire government resigns, and/or the political regime falls.
The protests accelerated when the security detail of the Minister of Education fired live rounds from a machine gun into a crowd in order to disperse them. At around 2:30 a.m., security forces attempted to disperse the crowd in downtown Beirut, firing tear gas and using clubs. Banks, schools, and universities will be closed tomorrow.
The protests are unique in that they are spontaneous and truly representative of the Lebanese body politic. The protestors are from all over the country, all ages, all classes, and all religions. In fact, priests and shaykhs who have been interviewed have called for the entire government to resign. No one, not one politician or political group, is spared the rage of protesters who have been squeezed too far. Thus far no one has resigned, but it will be a long night and morning in Lebanon. We will update this post throughout the day.