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Sun, 17 Nov 2019 11:03 GMT

Lebanon Enters New Phase of Protests


Enass Sherri

Fri, 08 Nov 2019 23:47 GMT

As Lebanon's protests entered their third week, the demonstrators moved to what became known as Plan B, or the second phase of protests. After two weeks of blocked roads in various parts of the country, central sit-ins are now staged in front of state institutions and the places that protests consider as spots of corruption and waste of public funds.

The Central Bank of Lebanon and the only two telecommunications companies in Lebanon, Touch and Alfa, as well as the electricity company, were the main centres targeted by protesters, to the extent that visiting them became a daily morning routine.

This is, of course, apart from the daily gatherings before headquarters of ministries in various regions of Lebanon and the sit-ins in front of politicians’ houses whose names have been associated with corruption.

Under the house of former Prime Minister and Finance Minister Fouad Siniora, a young protestor named Shadi stood and shouted loudly, "All means all, and the judiciary is above all.” Shadi also stood in front of the Ministry of Electricity, shouting for the reform of this sector, which has cost the state budget billions without result.

Speaking enthusiastically to 7Dnews, Shadi said that what is happening now was a dream in the recent past, as thousands of citizens are deployed in front of institutions that have seized the people’s money and embezzled state funds.

"Yesterday, when we broke the wall and went down to the beach, which they turned into private property for them as well as for their peers, we felt that our dream is about to come true and that we were about to restore marine and public property, and would hold accountable whoever seized our money," he said.

Shadi is also keen to be stationed in front of the two telecommunication operators, Touch and Alpha.

"I feel like I have a personal vendetta against them. We get the worst service at the highest cost, forcing us to pay for days we did not use the service, thus paying for it twice, something which happens nowhere else other than our country," he said.

Meanwhile, for Mohamed Marwah, another young activist, the second stage is to go to government institutions that seized citizens’ money, which is the most important step “to press the regime for change.”

"The pressure on these centres will eventually lead to a result," Marwah said in an interview with 7Dnews. "Either these institutions fall and people realise that they are failing institutions, or they respond to pressure, change their policies, and move towards reform and accountability of corrupt officials."

Marwah considers that blocking roads in the first phase was effective and could have been continued, “but the regime entered into the line and tried to portray the situation as if there was a street opposite another street; the street of the protesters versus the street of the people being blocked. It is precisely at this time that we had to move to the second plan."

The sit-ins in front of ministries, government institutions, and banks were not limited to Beirut; they expanded to various Lebanese regions, even those that are subject to ruling parties. In the south, for example, Sidon was the first city to move from road blocking to central sit-ins. It also extended south to Tyre and Nabatieh.

Youssef Assi, an activist in the southern region, believes that the transition from road blocking to the sit-ins is a necessity and a pressing measure, not because "we have fulfilled one of our demands of overthrowing the government, but because people, instigated by the regime, began to hold the protesters accountable for the deplorable economic situation, knowing that the protesters had taken to streets because of the collapsed economy."

"We must not forget the special nature of the south in view of the fear of ‘resistance’ there, so it was necessary to carefully study every single step and every slogan,” Assi said in an interview with 7Dnews.

Assi believes that staging sit-ins opposite Banque du Liban headquarters would be agreed upon unanimously. The sit-ins in front of its branches in the south have been welcomed, especially since a large part of the economic problem is caused by this bank, which embraced financial policies that impoverished the state and benefited only politicians and capitalists.

Studying the steps well was a major reason for the increase in the number of protesters, especially in the south, Assi added.

Pressure is required regardless of shape

Dr. Kamal Hamdan, executive director of the Research and Consulting Foundation in Beirut and an activist in the popular movement, is of the view that "pressure should continue regardless of its shape."

"It is good to keep the movement no matter where it is, as has been achieved, which is to put pressure on this regime," he said.

In an interview with 7Dnews, Hamdan explained that pressure should continue as long as people did not get a response and the regime did not react to their demands and rage.

Hamdan believes that if the political and government situations continue the way they are, "We will have no win situations. The first is the acceleration of the rapid depreciation of the lira against the US dollar, which means higher cost of living, declining purchasing power, and the collapse of the pension systems paid in Lebanese pounds, thus more people will take to the streets to escalate mobility."

The second and equally dangerous option, Hamdan said, is "the eruption of a banking crisis coinciding with the state's failure to repay its debt and its inability to finance part of its expenses."

The only way to avoid the two options is to "respond to the demands of the people and form an unprecedented government outside the ruling system. The government should be professionally qualified and committed to the interests of the country, especially the middle and poor classes. That government should be given exceptional powers to recover the seized public funds and reform the public tax system and public spending."

Translated by Hussam Abulhadid

Middle East