Women and students are at the heart of Lebanon’s protests

A school student shouts slogans during ongoing protests against the Lebanese government in front of the Education Ministry, in Beirut, on Wednesday. (AP)
Updated 07 November 2019

Women and students are at the heart of Lebanon’s protests

  • It is clear that ‘the most dynamic group in Lebanon is the Twitter and Facebook generation’

BEIRUT: To keep up the momentum of the Lebanese protests for the 21st day, students in secondary schools took to the streets expressing fears about their future in the country.

The students, aged between 16 and 18, entered school on Wednesday morning before deciding, despite threats of expulsion if they joined the protests, to leave by force chanting “revolution” and “the people want the downfall of the regime,” while waving Lebanese flags.

Images on television and social media amazed many politicians. MP Paula Yacoubian paid tribute to the students on Twitter, while MP Sami Gemayel said “after a long absence, Lebanese students returned to the national struggle to build a new Lebanon. The path of change will not stop any more.”

“It became clear that the most dynamic group in Lebanon is the Twitter and Facebook generation, a cross-sectarian group, a transformational, free and strong group capable of achieving miracles. The confusion it has created among the traditional parties is clear evidence of that. It has laid the foundations of a new political phenomenon. I salute you, carry on,” said former MP Fares Souaid.

Students protested in front of the Palace of Justice in Beirut for “an independent judiciary” and at the Ministry of Education for “modern curricula,” as well as at public institutions in Beirut and across the country.

“What is the point of studying and receiving a degree if we will not find a job in Lebanon and have to leave?” asked a student named Nayla, “Those in power have to step down and make way for those who can actually deal with corruption and provide us with a better life.”

“I asked a security personnel trying to stop us from blocking the street if he was running a luxurious life. He told me that his salary does not allow him to get married,” said another student.

Students broke the barrier of fear after some schools threatened to expel those who participated in the protests. One such threat was made by a school director in Sidon, but she retracted it after her voice recording went viral on social media.

Women, too, have broken the chains of fear. They have constituted the heart of the protests in various regions since the start of the movement on Oct. 17. They were on the frontlines confronting the security forces and the supporters of Hezbollah and Amal Movement.

VIEW OUR PHOTO GALLERY: Lebanon's protest movement lives on

Actress Nada Bou Farhat said: “I turned the picture of the girl kicking her aggressor into a sticker on my phone.”

Protests in downtown Beirut have turned into discussion forums every evening where activists exchange ideas. Dozens of women activists from organizations concerned with women’s rights took part in the discussion titled “Women – Revolution.” They expressed their opinions on women’s achievements during the revolution and how to protect their rights.

“First of all, we are against insults that used female organs. Women have proved during this revolution that they are as smart as men,” said Bou Farhat, noting that “the revolution overcame the fear of abandoning political parties and joining the movement, the fear of our parents and the politicians that linked opposition to the return of civil war, which was proved wrong by the revolution.”

“I have never protested before. I broke many barriers to take part in this movement. They used to say that protests are limited to men, but women played a leadership role in this revolution. Women helped write signs, encouraged people to take to the streets and even protected men. This revolution means a lot to me as it demands social and economic justice,” said the activist Reine Hammoud.

Dr. Halima Al-Kakour told Arab news that “some want to insult women by calling the revolution a cabaret. This is a blatant distortion of the revolution. Women courageously stood up and protected the protests by forming a human barrier in the face of aggressors.

“Women activists are taking part in planning and organizing the squares. They have a pivotal role in the society’s dynamic organizations, but are marginalized by a corrupt sectarian patriarchal system.

“Politicians want to undermine women’s dignity, but they will not scare us or make us feel weak.”

“Building a nation and promoting democracy without women is impossible. We will not accept less than half of the seats for women in future governments and parliaments,” she said.

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

Updated 21 February 2020

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

  • Situation volatile as Palestinian refugees face economic crisis after US peace plan

BEIRUT: Authorities are battling to prevent “a social explosion” among Palestinian refugees crammed into camps in Lebanon, a top official has revealed.

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions in Lebanon, told Arab News that urgent measures were being put in place to try and stop the “crisis” situation getting out of control.

“Conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are very difficult due to the economic crisis facing the country, and we are trying to delay a social explosion in the camps and working on stopgap solutions,” he said.

And Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, the head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), said: “More Palestinian refugees from the camps in Lebanon are immigrating. Embassies are receiving immigration requests, and Canada is inundated with a wave of immigration because its embassy has opened doors to applications.”

According to a population census conducted in 2017 by the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon, in coordination with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spread across 12 camps and nearby compounds.

Mneimneh insisted the figure was accurate despite the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating there to be 459,292 refugees in the country. He said: “The census we had conducted refers to the current reality in Lebanon.”

He added that he feared “increased pressure on European donor countries over UNRWA in the coming days after the unilateral implementation of the ‘Deal of the Century’ (the US peace plan for the Middle East) by Israel.

“Israel’s goal is to undermine UNRWA’s mission as a prelude to ending the Palestinian cause and, thus, preventing the return of Palestinians.”

Mneimneh held a meeting on Wednesday with two Lebanese and Palestinian action groups in Lebanon to discuss Palestinian asylum issues in light of the American peace plan. There were no representatives of Hezbollah or Hamas present at the talks.

He said: “This deal kick-starts an unusual stage that carries the most serious risks not only to the Palestinian people and cause, but also to the other countries and entities in the Arab region.

“The first of these is Lebanon, which senses the danger of this announcement in view of the clauses it contains to eliminate the Palestinian cause, including the refugee issue and the possibility of their settlement in the host countries.”

Al-Ardat said: “Palestinian refugees have no choice but to withstand the pressures on them to implement the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ What is proposed is that we sell our country for promises, delusions, and $50 billion distributed to three countries. Palestine is not for sale.”

He pointed out that “the camps in Lebanon resorted to family solidarity in coordination with the shops in the camps. Whoever does not have money can go to the shop after two (2 p.m.) in the afternoon and get vegetables for free.

“We have been securing 7,000 packs of bread to distribute in the camps and buying the same amount to sell the pack at 500 liras. But this does not solve the problem.”

He added: “The PLO leadership continues to perform its duty toward the refugees and, until now, we have not been affected by the restrictions imposed by banks in Lebanon, and refugees are still receiving medical treatment.

“However, our concern now is that Palestinian refugees do not starve, taking into account all the indications that the situation in Lebanon will not improve soon.

“Twenty percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon receive wages either from UNRWA — as they work there — or from the PLO because they are affiliated with the factions, but 80 percent are unemployed and have no income.”

The meeting hosted by Mneimneh agreed “the categorical rejection of the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it means further erasing the identity existence of the Palestinian people as well as their national rights, especially their right to return and establish their independent state.

“It also means assassinating the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights and supporting Israel’s usurpation of international justice and 72 years of Arab struggle.

“The deal includes ambiguous, illegal and immoral approaches that contradict all relevant UN and Security Council resolutions, especially with regard to the establishment of the Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement on the meeting added.

“UNRWA must remain the living international witness to the ongoing suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people, and UNRWA must continue to receive support.”

Attendees at the talks also recommended “improving the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to strengthen the elements of their steadfastness until they return.” This was “based on the Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon document, which includes the right to work.”