The protests rippling across Lebanon over the past weeks have had a range of emotions. One minute, there is anger: A video of a woman kicking a bodyguard of the minister of education who had been shooting in the air to scare away crowds in Beirut went viral. The next moment, there is humor and the next, nightclub-like celebration, with public squares filled with dancers and waving lights.
To try to capture the wide span of what is happening, Al-Fanar Media editors are collecting here photographs, interviews, videos, and short sketches of what is happening on the streets of Beirut, the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, and other areas. We will update this report as the protests continue.
Violence, Fires and Shootings
The protests are not without pain: Some protesters are engaging in random vandalism and at least some people have died, including two Syrian workers who were trapped in a building that was set on fire in downtown Beirut. In Tripoli, the country’s second-largest city, at least eight people were injured when a politician’s bodyguards fired on demonstrators. Dozens of protesters are reported on television to have been injured in southern cities and towns, such as Nabatieh, where Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, both Shia Muslim-affiliated sects, dominate. Reports from the South suggest local police under the control of those sects are trying to end protests for fear the sects will lose political control.
As of this writing, many Lebanese schools, universities, banks, and roads are closed. (See a related article, “Professors Start a School of the Rioters.”) Public institutions are subject to a political tug of war, with demonstrators wanting them to be closed to keep protest momentum going, and supporters of the existing system wanting them to open.
Some Lebanese are calling the protests the “beginning of the end of the civil war.” The conflict that ended in 1990 left in place a political system elaborately divided by sects that was intended as a form of power sharing. But the public has slowly come to view those in power are as having a voracious appetite for corruption, in a country with the third worst public debt load in the world. One analysis found that 1 percent of Lebanon’s population collects 25 percent of the national income. Lebanon ranks 138 out of 180 on Transparency International’s corruption perception index. Sect leaders largely control civil service jobs according to a patronage system. Public services, such as garbage collection, electricity, and clean water don’t reach a large proportion of the population, when they function at all.
The last major protests in Lebanon, in 2015–16, were in fact over the government’s failure to solve a waste disposal crisis. This time around, though, it seems that no single issue—health care, unemployment, education or other government services—is the focus of protesters’ anger. Instead, they say they are done with their government—the president, the parliament, and cabinet—completely. They are demanding the prosecution of politicians, including former politicians, and chanting the slogan “Kellon Yani Kellon” which translates to: “All of them means All of them,” a chant that has been used in other Arab countries.
The civil war between sects has turned into a war between the ruling class and the rest of Lebanon, in the view of many protesters. An image circulating on social media takes a map of the sects and turns it into a united Lebanon. To its people, the joke that Lebanon proves that a country cannot exist without a government isn’t funny anymore.