Lebanese take to the streets to mark protest anniversary

Anti-government demonstrators take pictures of a metal sculpture spelling out the word "revolution" topped by flames during a protest as Lebanese mark one year since the start of nation-wide protests, near Beirut's port, Lebanon October 17, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 October 2020

Lebanese take to the streets to mark protest anniversary

  • The explosion at Beirut port served as a shocking reminder to many of the rot at the heart of their political system
  • On Saturday, hundreds of people brandishing placards and Lebanese flags gathered in Martyrs' Square in Beirut

BEIRUT: Thousands of Lebanese protesters marked the one-year anniversary of nationwide demonstrations on Saturday by marching from Martyrs’ Square in the heart of Beirut to the central bank and government offices where they renewed calls for an end to Lebanon’s sectarian political system.

Activist groups from the southern cities of Sidon and Tyre, as well as Baalbeck, Bekaa and Tripoli in the north, joined the protest, which brought Martyrs’ Square back to life after weeks of inactivity. Wearing masks, the protesters waved Lebanese flags and demanded the overthrow of the “criminal” ruling class.

The march continued to Beirut port, where protesters lit a “torch of the Oct. 17 revolution” to commemorate victims of the explosion that devastated large areas of the capital on Aug. 4.

Almost 180 people were killed and more than 6,500 injured in the blast, which left Lebanon reeling after a year of financial scandals and political stalemate.

In that time, the country has plunged into bankruptcy, the Lebanese lira has collapsed and the dollar exchange rate has skyrocketed on the black market.

Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs, and more than 20 percent of companies and institutions have closed their doors. Meanwhile, the poverty rate has soared from 28 percent to 55 percent, with some indicators predicting it will reach 75 percent.

The central bank’s reserves have dropped from $30 billion to $17 billion and the gross domestic product from $55 billion to $31 billion. Inflation has reached 100 percent.

Amid mounting popular anger at the country’s political class, Saad Hariri’s government resigned, Hassan Diab’s government quit after the Beirut blast and Mustafa Adib stepped down after failing to form a government in line with a French rescue initiative led by President Emmanuel Macron.  

Hariri recently offered himself as a “natural candidate” to head the new government, but President Michel Aoun postponed parliamentary consultations after the Free Patriotic Movement objected to the appointment.

Amid these dramatic developments, protesters say they have no intention of backing down.

“Our positions have not changed,” activist Mahmoud Faqih told Arab News.

“The recent developments have made it even clearer that the ruling class has lost legitimacy and must be removed from power. We have proven that we are the alternative power to heal the wounds of the people.”

Faqih said the coronavirus pandemic has slowed the revolution’s momentum, which has also been affected by “many active protesters deciding to leave Lebanon.”

However, “during the past year, initiatives have taken place between revolutionary groups to increase coordination and establish an opposition front,” he said.

Another activist, Ziad Abdel Samad, said: “This year has shown that our rulers are criminals who commit crimes against their own people. The ruling class has lost all legitimacy in their people’s eyes.”

He said that “frustration and desperation” had forced many activists to leave the country.

“Nothing has changed. The ruling class is still fighting over the quota system, even in light of the French initiative.”

However, Abdel Samad said that the creation of opposing political blocs in the wake of the protests might lead to the “emergence of new alternative officials.”

“The revolution has created a new equation on the political scene. On its one-year anniversary, the revolution is still getting foreign support.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted: “One year ago today, the Lebanese people began taking to the streets demanding reforms, better governance and an end to the endemic corruption that has stifled Lebanon’s tremendous potential. Their message remains clear and undeniable — business as usual is unacceptable.”

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, said that he “stood beside Lebanon and its people, and the necessary reforms that should be carried out by an effective government.”

Kubis said that “the massive wave of protests brought to the streets hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of Lebanese across all the Lebanese regions and across political and sectarian divides to express their profound disappointment in the ruling class and the sectarian political and administrative system that has promoted corruption and nepotism in the country.”


Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

Mask-clad shoppers walk past shops in Beirut's Hamra street on May 7, 2020, as Lebanon gradually eases its lockdown measures against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2020

Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

  • The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks

BEIRUT: The Ministry of Education will reopen schools for integrated education starting on Monday.

This comes after two weeks of closure and amid objections from civil bodies and commentators working in the public field.

Hilda El-Khoury, director of the counseling and guidance department at the Ministry of Education, said: “Returning to education through the combined method will be within the preventive measures that were previously approved.”

However, the Civil Emergency Authority in Lebanon said: “The decision will lead to a health crisis affecting the most vulnerable people, namely children and underage students, especially with the number of cases not declining since before the closure, and with the noticeable increase in the daily number of deaths.”

The Ministerial Committee for Combating the Coronavirus has meanwhile maintained its decision to impose a partial curfew in Lebanon but amended its implementation hours. Instead of starting at 5:00 p.m. each evening, the curfew now begins at 11 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m., provided that restaurants, cafes and malls close at 10:00 pm.

During its meeting on Sunday, the committee decided to restore vehicle movement on roads but maintained the suspension of social activities, cinemas and nightclubs.

Health minister for Lebanon’s caretaker government, Hamad Hassan, said that the adoption of the strategy, permitting odd/even license plate vehicles on the roads on alternate days, had doubled the number of COVID-19 cases due to people’s reliance on shared transportation.

He said: “The rate of commitment to complete closure in all Lebanese territories has reached 70 percent over the past two weeks.”

Hassan said that the aim of the measures was to alleviate the pressure on the medical and nursing staff.

“The required medical measures, completed in terms of expanding the hospitals’ capacity to accommodate the COVID-19 cases, have been completed,” he said.

The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks.

Abdul Rahman Al-Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the emergency committee on coronavirus, regretted the lack of plans for the period following the closure due to a lack of coordination on COVID-19 between state departments.

He said that this had kept the country in a state of confusion and chaos while citizens paid a high price in light of the difficult economic and living conditions.

Al-Bizri said: “The repeated closures are unsuccessful, and one of their consequences is the decline in economic activity, the life cycle, and the living conditions.”

Meanwhile, video footage of Health Minister Hamad Hassan went viral on Saturday. It showed him cutting a cake for the birthday of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in the open market in Baalbek city.

The video was circulated on social media and caused a scandal following a similar episode in which the same minister was involved months ago.

The people of his town in the Bekaa met him during the peak of the spread of coronavirus, and he danced among them carrying a sword. Some people carried him on their shoulders and other social distancing measures were also not observed.

The Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs and Pastries has called in the past few days for the sector to reopen to save what is left of it.

In a statement issued on the eve of the ministerial committees’ meeting, the syndicate called on the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, to “adopt a health-economic approach for the benefit of the rest of the sector.”

The syndicate added: “The sector has fully fulfilled its duties with regard to the preventive measures.

“We have also advanced a new approach related to the capacity of institutions, whereby chairs and tables are reallocated to accommodate only 50 percent of the original capacity, guaranteeing that no overcrowding will occur.

“We insist on adopting this as a new measure, and we discussed it with the minister of interior, and the sector will reopen its doors on Monday morning while remaining committed to all procedures and laws.”

Bechara Asmar, the head of the General Labor Union, called for the reopening of the country “because it secures a return to the economic cycle during the month of the holidays, protects workers, employees and daily-paid workers in all private, public, and official sectors, and preserves their livelihood at a time when they risk having their wages reduced, starving to death or dying of the coronavirus.”