BEIRUT: The gathering in Poet Khalil Mutran Square, near Baalbek Castle, was shy at the beginning of the civil movement in Lebanon on Oct. 17, despite all the pain endured by the city.
Yassin Chamas, a citizen of Baalbek, noted that the participation of the people of northern Bekaa “is not limited to Baalbek as there are also protests in Hermel, a stronghold of Hezbollah, and the towns of Arsal and Fakha. This is due to the fact that tribal ties in the region were not fully broken by political parties which guaranteed a breathing space for people to freely express their opinions, disregarding the parties’ orders.
“Baalbek is one of the most neglected provinces in Lebanon,” said Chamas. “The only possible immigration for the new generation of educated youths is to Beirut and its southern suburb in search of job opportunities. Life is difficult. The nearest hospital is 70 km away, whereas public hospitals are almost paralyzed due to the malfunction in the state’s institutions, in addition to the difficulty in procuring fuel.”
Issa Jamaluddin, an activist in the Baalbek protests, said that “there is a media blackout on the protest movement of the region for unknown reasons.”
He added: “The people who are taking to the streets are educated. There are doctors, engineers and workers, and there are also hungry and needy people. There is certainly a divergence of opinion among us participants in the protests, but we all agree on one thing: Israel is our enemy.”
Chamas said: “The demands of the region are easy and difficult at the same time,” noting that “90 percent of real estate in the region is not registered as people could not go to Beirut to do so, due to distance and expenses, which makes it hard for any inhabitant of the region to get a housing loan or a bank loan, and that it is necessary for the state to sort this matter out.”
Chamas and Jamaluddin agree that the attack on the square provoked people to join the movement on the next day of the attack. Chamas said: “The attack was due to Hezbollah being unable to let people act according to their will because it affects its stronghold. The state has no plans for any reforms in northern Bekaa. It only seeks to buy acquiescence through cheap means which do not ward off starvation; however people have become aware enough to rise up and think about their future.”
Jamaluddin was surprised at the extent of women’s participation in the Baalbek protests and said that they exceeded over half of its participants.
Maya Al-Chel, a young activist who set a reading forum in Baalbek, said that people “are going to the square because they want to get rid of the corrupt political class and the parties in power and aim to abolish sectarianism.”
She added: “It is true that the protests were modest in the beginning but with time, and with the assault by thugs, there was a reaction, and a new generation of politically aware people came to the streets to claim job opportunities, universities and hospitals.”
She pointed out that “all accusations linking us to foreign powers are void, for we gather modest donations every day to buy flags.”
Chamas said that he belongs “to a generation that organized and participated in demonstrations before and during the civil war,” but he believes that the “revolution generation is exhibiting an unprecedented level of political consciousness.”
He added that “we failed in achieving Arab unity, in liberating Palestine, or in establishing democratic rule, and the biggest service that we could render to the rebellious generation is not to deal with them as if we are their tutors. We need to listen to their points of view. The role of my generation is to monitor rather than guide, and revolutions in the world need long years and take different forms.”