For the Lebanese, this is a fight for dignity


Lebanese, Lebanese demonstrators, lebanon

Corrupt politicians have, over the years, taken the country to the brink of collapse

By Christiane Waked

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Published: Tue 22 Oct 2019, 12:12 PM

Last updated: Tue 22 Oct 2019, 2:14 PM

Frustration and anger have taken over the Lebanese as they watch their beautiful green forests burning and the wildfires spreading, even as the people and the government sit by helplessly. Resentment has been growing for months but it reached breaking point last week as Lebanon struggled to fight the rampant wildfires. The government could do nothing to contain it since none of its emergency aircraft were being maintained for a decade. Thus, millions of Lebanese demonstrators took their pain and anger to the streets in cities carrying the Lebanese flags and demanding the end of their political leadership which has been looting the economy for 30 years until the country has now reached the point of collapse.
People took to social media to question the efficacy of the government. "Why water is used on protesters by the police water cannon and not to put down these fires?" asked one. "Like the fire, politicians have consumed everything there is to be consumed from the Lebanese wealth," commented another.
It is no secret that Lebanon has been on the throes of an economic recession. And persistent downward trends further exacerbated the budget deficit pushing the economy into doldrums. The Institute of International Finance (IIF) report estimated that public deficit could reach 151.8 per cent of GDP this year. Lebanon has, in fact, amassed so much debt that it has become the world's third most indebted country.
More than half of Lebanese citizens are unemployed, and political parties have been exploiting this to foster anti-refugee sentiment and sectarian fear among the population ignoring the fact that what the nation now needs are real solutions.
Add to this is the implication of Hezbollah in the Syrian war costing the lives of Lebanese citizens even as the Shia community is starving. This has resulted in great resentment within the community. The crash of the tourism sector, especially with several countries from the Gulf banning their citizens from visiting Lebanon, has led to the further collapse of the economy. (The ban was, however lifted days before the protests began).
Corruption and the oppressive attitude of the officials have enraged the Lebanese who find it difficult to even pay the increased taxes. The awareness that the officials are making billions and stacking the money in their accounts in Switzerland, has only escalated the contempt, with austerity measures such as taxes on bread and fuel adding fuel to fire. The Arab Spring seems to have finally reached Lebanon. But despite being fully aware of its danger, the Lebanese have decided to take their chances and demonstrate their anger.
They are fighting to restore dignity.
They want their politicians to end all manipulation in the name of sectarianism.
They want bread, they want milk, they want to be able to pay the fees for their children's education.
They want their most basic needs to be respected and met, such as continuous power and water supply.
They want to know that the reforms the government promised through unlocking $11 billion in loans and grants from the international community will not end up in the pockets of corrupt officials. There is a chance that the protests will duplicate Iraq along with a fear that Hezbollah and The Amal Movement - the political party associated with Lebanon's Shia community - could turn their weapons on the demonstrators.
Many questions are now hard to answer. What would happen to the country if there is a political vacuum? Will countries such as Turkey profit from the happenings in Lebanon?
Will the Lebanese be able to change the system? And the big question whether the civil war has finally ended and the Lebanese sentiment has won over sectarianism still remains.
Christiane Waked is a political analyst based in Beirut

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