Protesters at Martyrs´ Square in Beirut, Lebanon.
Foto: Ylva J Bergman
Avsnitt 94: Lebanon protests – ”We want our basic rights”
Several weeks of unprecedented protests in Lebanon has left the country in suspense. OmVärlden met some of the protesters.
Peaceful protests have erupted across the country and cross-sectarian borders. Tuesday, October 29th, started as another peaceful day until mobs attacked the protesters, just hours before the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
The mob, who are believed to be supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, attacked protesters blocking the roads. A few hours later the mob pushed into Martyrs´ Square, destroyed and set several tents on fire. The army did not immediately intervene to protect the protesters.
OmVärlden has been talking to protesters on Martyrs´ Square in Beirut, before and after the attacks and the resignation of the Prime Minister.
Maya, Karma and Karen hope the protests will bring the change the people of Lebanon need.
“I hope the protests will last, people are still coming here to protest. For the past 30 years, we have lived with no basic rights, like clean water, electricity, it has been too long, and it is time for a change”, says Maya, one of the women behind the Green Trent who recycle garbage from the protests.
Karma, who started the Green Tent initiative, was personally affected when her family's home was lost due to fires that destroyed the area of Chouf,in Mount Lebanon, earlier in October 2019. The failure to tackle the fires comes down to corruption and no maintenance of firefighting helicopters.
“We were affected emotionally. My brother had to leave the country to find a job. There are not enough jobs for us normal people. My other brother is working day and night, just to keep living. It is unfair for us to live in such a corrupt country”, says Karma.
Karen is a wellness-professional who also joined the protesters at the Green Tent:
“I got into wellness because I wanted to escape. I have been living in a bubble. I did not watch the news because it created so much tension. I was hoping things would get better, but it only got worse. The Lebanese people are awakened now”, she says.
Focus: basic rights and ending corruption
The protesters are forming different groups, discussing how to proceed. Everyone is thinking about how they can keep up the spirit. The Green Tent is considering collaborating with recycling firms to teach people how to recycle in their neighborhoods.
“Politically we are ok with the standstill. This is something people can take. It is economically that people are starting to feel it”, says Karen.
“We want our basic rights. Our elderly need good care, children have rights, the disabled have specific needs”, says Karma.
Women have played an important role in the protests and in maintaining peace on the streets.
“Women should have the right to their children. The children, whose fathers are not Lebanese, should get citizenship. This is a major issue”, says Maya, who thinks all women, no matter the religion are behind these demands.
For now, however, basic rights for the citizens and ending the corrupt government, seem to be the main focus.
The resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri is not seen as a real victory amongst the protester that OmVärlden met. The government needs to show swift action and deadlines of 2-4 days are mentioned amongst the protesters.
However, roads, banks, schools and universities have on and off been opened in Lebanon.
Retired army general André Bou Maachar also came down to the square to support the protesters. Maachar and other veterans have been protesting proposed budgets cuts to their pensions and benefits and are behind the protesters demands.
Ajwad Al Ayash started protesting during the garbage crisis in Lebanon 2014 when he could no longer breathe fresh air outside his house. He believes that the growing discontent amongst the people is what has led to this uprising.
Mazen Beaini is a businessman supporting the protesters. He is very worried about the deepening economic crisis in Lebanon. He does not see the resignation of Hariri as a victory for the protesters.
“This is not a victory for anyone. We should all work together for our country. The people do not have trust in the political system”, he says.
The protesters on the square also engage in art, yoga and discussions to keep the momentum of the protests going.
Below a classic take on Delacroix famous painting, "Freedom on the Barricades" found inside the old cinema, called the Egg, in Beirut, which has been closed since the civil war and has become an important symbol for the protesters.
As the evening settles over the protesters the outcome of the protests is still unknown.
Text&foto: Ylva Bergman