The people have spoken.
For ten days, through rain, hail, and shine they have lifted their flags with longing. They have chanted. They have ranted. They have danced and cried. They have run for cover and have then returned. They have made their voices heard. They have swelled the hearts of their brothers and sisters in diaspora. They have rejoiced in their rage and sang the melancholic tunes of a nation ravaged by years of wars, nepotism, corruption and theft.
In squares of all the major cities, in small towns and villages we hadn’t heard of before, they have congregated. And for the first time, heart-warmingly, and perhaps miraculously, religious affiliation has taken the back seat. In fact, identity politics as we have always known it to exist in Lebanon has been firmly squeezed into a tin barrel that otherwise would be used for burning stacks of garbage the government does not have the time to collect.
The month of October had been stressful enough for the Lebanese. With economic collapse looming over the horizon, the price of the Lebanese Lira dropped, with 1000 L.L equalling 0.66 USD (it had been equal to 0.75 USD since the late 90s) early in the month. Petrol stations went on multiple strikes and you’d be lucky to find cash waiting for you at your nearby ATM. Then, several parts of the country were victims to large forests fires that left irreversible damage. Interestingly enough, while I heard professors from AUB explaining that the reforesting process needs to be thoroughly planned, I did not hear any politicians mention the C- word (compensation).
The fires raged for up to four days, leaving the nation in a state of fatigue. In the wake of that fatigue, the ruling class thought it would be fit to reveal a bit of legislation it was studying in its ingenious efforts to save the economy. On Thursday, 17thof October, the government revealed a plan to apply a monthly tax on Whatsapp to enable voice and video calls.
The tax acted as the last splash of fuel needed to reignite the fires. Only this time, they were fires of a different kind. People poured into the streets of Beirut in protest. While the government backed down on the Whatsapp tax on the same night, the damage had been done.
There would be no turning back. Since that Thursday, the Lebanese people have gathered, night and day, to express their rage at the sheer incompetence and corruption of their elected officials. They will not stop until the whole ruling class steps down, starting from the ‘president’.
On a daily basis, there have been insidious attempts to taint the revolution, by attempting to pin the army against the people, and by sending small groups of angry incel-like young men to create chaos. There have been occasional, contained scuffles but in general, most of these tactics have failed and the army remains, the friend and guardian of the people in this movement.
The president has spoken two times since the revolution started. He, his party and his regional backers do not support the uprising. This is not surprising and it’s not offensive either. It is the government they have created with all the rotten eggs and backed. It would be counterintuitive to give it up. They would at least have to come up with a contingency plan as how to remain in control.
Whether or not they have a contingency plan, the president’s words have not had the desired impact. While he can ban his constituents from participating, and impose on all those in government to not resign, the rest of the population no longer feels obligated to heed his words, or his warnings. Whether or not this will result in the flexing of some military muscles remains to be seen. But up until this point, the protesters are unfazed and will remain in the streets till the political elites fall and return the wealth they have embezzled from the government.
On the other hand, Michel Aoun also made a speech after nine days of protests that came in the form of light refreshment and comic relief. He has now fulfilled his duties and has returned to his cot.
This revolution has been awe-inspiring to me and I will be following it closely. As of now, there seems to be no end in sight but I, as the rest of the Lebanese, both at home and in diaspora, remain hopeful.