Two years after the start of the demonstrations that drew half a million Lebanese to protest against their ruling class, the country faces widespread poverty. The coronavirus pandemic and the explosion in Beirut have pushed the country to the extreme, while the discontent against a political class accused of being corrupt continues.
October 17, 2019 was the start of an unprecedented movement in Lebanon. Citizens of all religions marched together to demand their resignation from the political class, as well as a change of regime, and even, many of them also called for the establishment of a secular state.
But the protests, which were projected at the time as the beginning of a revolution that was going to change the country, were followed by two years in which the nation has plunged into an unprecedented economic, political, social, and social crisis. including health and food, aggravated by the impact of the pandemic and the deadly explosion in Beirut in 2020.
On October 17, just dozens of Lebanese came out to demonstrate against a political class that they continue to accuse of being the culprit of perpetrating systematic corruption with decades of mismanagement that has led the country to bankruptcy.
The start of a popular revolution against the Lebanese ruling class
Two years ago, the country experienced a social outbreak, triggered by the government’s decision to impose new taxes during the economic recession. The streets were flooded with enraged protesters who tried to cross the security points of the headquarters of the Executive.
Security forces countered the protests with tear gas. The protests began with a few dozen people gathering in downtown Beirut for the imposition of a 20 cent daily fee on messaging apps, including the popular WhatsApp.
Three days later, on October 20, nearly half a million people of different religions took to the streets in one voice against the leaders, whom they did not recognize and called for their resignation. The result was one of the largest demonstrations in the country’s history since the garbage crisis protests in 2015.
With the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al Hariri on October 29, 2019, citizens gathered in the Parliament building shouting “revolution” and accusing traditional politicians of “thieves”. The retired president assured that “the situation in Lebanon was at a standstill and that it needed a shock to get out of the crisis.”
The arrival of the pandemic and the explosion in Beirut pushed the country to the limit
With the arrival of the pandemic, the protests seemed to have dissipated, however, months later they erupted again. Not only had things not improved, but they were going from bad to worse: the coronavirus stalked the country, which was living in hospital collapse and suffering from a lack of all kinds of medical supplies to assist the sick. As if that were not enough, the country’s already devastated economy was sinking more and more.
In this situation of extreme crisis, on August 4, 2020, Beirut, the capital, was devastated by an explosion that swept through part of the city, claiming the lives of 217 people and injuring more than 6,500. After the explosion, the causes of which are still being investigated, it reignited the protests of a citizenry inflamed with its political class after rumors spread that the accident could have been prevented.
After what happened in August, citizens and the international community pressed for the resignation of the Government. Countries like France asked the nation to carry out structural political and economic reforms if it wanted to access loans from the International Monetary Fund, an injection of money necessary to get out of the deep economic crisis.
On October 22, Hariri resumed the mandate as prime minister with the aim of forming a new Executive, but after months of not being able to agree with the different political forces of the country, which historically have shared power in the nation and demand to control the various Ministries, Hariri submitted his resignation.
Finally, billionaire Najib Mikati was entrusted with the task of forming a new government, something he did on September 10 after 13 months of political negotiations in the country. His main task: to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund and get money into the country.
Unrest over Beirut explosion investigation
The most recent protests, on October 14, saw the deadliest sectarian clashes in years on the streets of Beirut, leaving seven people dead and dozens injured.
The demonstration was called by the Hezbollah group, of great political influence in the country, and the Shiite Amal party. Both are calling for the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation against several former ministers, suspected of negligence in the Beirut port explosion.
Lebanon’s top Christian cleric, Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, said Sunday that “the judiciary should be free from political interference and sectarian activism.”
For many Lebanese, the Beirut port explosion is the greatest example of the abandonment of the population by the political class.
This incident, the country’s endemic political crisis and the arrival of the coronavirus have made Lebanon a country adrift with a local currency that has lost more than 90% of its value against the dollar. In recent months, many Lebanese have not been able to access their savings due to severe banking restrictions and, overall, about 80% of the population lives in poverty.
With Reuters and EFE