As protests enter their fifth consecutive week, thousands of students across Lebanon have refused to attend classes. They prefer to demonstrate in the streets as part of a protest movement demanding the ouster of the governing class and despite concerns about threats to the current school year and the future of their own education.
After an earlier announcement that institutions could decide on their own whether to resume studies, the minister of education backtracked on Tuesday and suspended study in all schools, institutes and universities in the light of the continuing protests and calls for a general strike throughout Lebanon. “This decision comes in order to preserve the safety of students and respect for their right to ‘democratic expression,’” the minister, Akram Hussein Chehayeb, said in a news release.
Schools, institutes and universities were almost completely suspended for at least two weeks in various cities after the protests erupted on October 17, before some resumed classes. (See a related article, “Lebanon’s Universities Have Emptied Out Into the Streets.”)
In the past week, however, school and university students have intensified their presence in sit-ins and marches in front of public institutions, expressing fears about the deteriorating situation and its impact on their future.
“I don’t think my academic year is under threat, because my case is right,” said Sarah Molham, a 17-year-old student from a public school in Tripoli. “I have left the class with all the students for our rights and the rights of our parents, which we will not get if we do not fill the squares and shout loudly in the face of corrupt authority.”
She added that participating in the demonstrations was an irreplaceable opportunity and that she would not return to study until the protesters’ demands were fulfilled, including “changing our curricula that have become outdated and do not meet the needs of the labor market.”
Public Debt and Crumbling Services
Since October 17, Lebanon has witnessed a series of mass protests against a sharp decline in the standard of living, economic conditions, and the poor services provided by the state, such as electricity, water, waste removal, health care and social security. The country is struggling with debt that stands at $86 billion, equivalent to 150 percent of GDP and one of the highest national debts in the world. (See a related article, “In Lebanon: Sect Vs. Sect Turns Into People Vs. Politicians.”)