The people have spoken. And the world has heard them.
But, the Lebanese have yet to see their political and socioeconomic demands met.
I’m writing this on the 19thof November, the 33rdday of the protests. As I write, I’m watching the news and learning that a parliament meeting has just been postponed, after many MPs declined to join and protesters blockaded all the entrances to Parliament headquarters. And according to what I’ve seen so far, a rough day lies ahead. The protesters were met with rubber bullets from military personnel and were run over by a couple of bulletproof cars (a politician’s party most likely).
And while the demands of the protesters have not been met, a lot has happened in the last couple of weeks.
On the 29thof October, a glimmer of hope appeared. After a long day that included a group of thugs coming into the protests hubs in downtown Beirut and destroying all of their tents, food stalls and signs. Army personnel watched the thugs carry on with their business, and only decided to fire tear gas when the angry mob were finished destroying all in their path. The mob consisted of only men, chanting in the name of Amal and Hezbollah movements and exclaiming that they were angry that the protesters were closing off roads. Yet these men emerged soon after rumours of Hariri resigning circulated the Internet.
Whilst some believe that these men were genuinely angry (even, apparently, Raya Elhassan), a lot of people speculated that the men were sent as messengers, delivering a clear warning to Hariri – if you resign there will be more of this. Regardless of what I think about Hariri, I believe that the thuggery was a message. But no matter, Hariri called the bluff and resigned that afternoon on live television. He then visited the president to hand in his resignation.
But that seemed (and still seems) to be the end of that glimmer of hope. Since the resignation of Hariri, those in power have been stalling talks to form new ministries lead by technocrats. In the first week after the resignation, most local channels went from covering the protests 24/7 to barely covering them at all. The Lebanese took to twitter to express their rage, to organize and share important information.
The media bailing out on the protest was not a good sign because the move implied that it was over. The prime minister had resigned and the protesters could go home. But for the protesters, it is far from over. The resignation of the prime minister is only the first of their demands. And historically speaking, the Prime Minister has always been the first government official, and the quickest, to go. Omar Karami resigned from the post in 2005, as he did in 1992, both times in protests to protests and riots in the street. Hence, the Lebanese people know that the resignation does not mean much in terms of radical change.
The protests have continued with local news outlets choosing to cover or not cover them on a whim or after significant pressure from people on social media. I attended the protests in Beirut on the 30thand 31stof October and I did not notice any media coverage, even though there were large numbers of people present and clashes with authorities on Ring Bridge (the bridge leading from the Gemmayze area to Hamra).
In addition to media outlets seemingly losing interest in the protests (or succumbing to pressure from politicians), there were daily attempts to ruin the protests. Once again, the army was pinned against the people; the politicians tried to use their old tricks against Tripoli and the government was applying pressure on private institutions such as banks and Universities.
The protesters, however, always reacted with maturity and extreme discipline, never attacking the army, never vandalizing public or private property. When Pro Aoun croons decided to hold a pro-government rally on the 3rdof November, the protesters rushed back to the streets in full force. When the media decided not to cover the extravagant rallies held in Tripoli, the protesters in other parts of the country would re-emerge onto the streets. Never did they express their rage using violence. I truly have not yet witnessed or read about a protest that went on for so long with such little violence and collateral damage.
The Lebanese reveled in their peaceful protests and cheered on the Iraqi riots, while they watched them get shot at with rubber bullets and tear gas, as well as run over by military cars. The Iraqi protests continue, but they are in stark contrast to the Lebanese revolution. But, a low blow would come. On the 12thof November, A peaceful protester named Alaa Abou Fakhr was gunned down by an army personnel. It seems to be a cold-blooded murder. The personnel who shot the father of three has been detained and we will probably never know why he did what he did.
Once again, the protesters held their breath and did not resort to violence to express their rage. Abou Fakhr has become the Martyr of the Revolution and protesters travelled across the country to the Choueifat area to attend his funeral (the funeral became a national event).
In the last week, Iranian protesters have also made the news and at this point, they haven’t had Internet for the last two days. There are reports of multiple deaths and entire cities slipping into the hands of protesters, but professional coverage of the situation and almost non-existent (I’ve been following people on twitter).
While the wind of change is exciting and contagious, when it comes to the Middle East, protests can often lead to a lot of violence and end up in full-fledged wars. I am still hopeful, but I am also ever watchful and cautious. I do wish for a dictator-free Middle East but I fear that the cost will be high.