BEIRUT: Thousands demonstrated against the sectarian system Sunday in the fourth round of protests in the capital, as part of a national campaign to topple Lebanon’s sectarian regime that has been going on across the country for over a month.
The demonstration, which took the Beirut Museum as a starting point, had been called for under the theme of “reclaiming the colors” appropriated by various political parties. Protesters carried blue, orange and yellow signs and balloons.
A small group of activists was also holding up a “secular rainbow,” a sort of multicolor-umbrella, under which demonstrators could walk to suddenly “become” secular.
Clown Jancouz, who was dancing with ribbons among protesters, said in a squeaky voice that “politicians took the happiness away from colors” by using them for their parties. “Colors are for us, not for politicians,” he added.
Maya Muhieddine, one of the organizers of the protest, explained that Sunday’s demonstration was a “revolution of colors.”
“Blue does not represent the Future Movement exclusively, nor does yellow only represent Hezbollah and orange is not particular to the Free Patriotic Movement,” she said.
Protesters carried signs reading “A civil country is a country of justice, equality and competency” and “No to the abolition of political sectarianism only, yes to the toppling of the sectarian system and its symbols.”
“We want to send a message for everyone to understand that we’re not only against political sectarianism but against the overall sectarian system,” Muhieddine explained, adding that several political figures were trying to “take part in this revolution but this revolution is against them and all [sectarian] politicians.”
Hiba Awar, a 28-year-old activist explained that it was crucial for anti-sectarian protests to succeed, although she admitted that the enthusiasm of some participants may have waned after clashes erupted during a demonstration in Sidon last weekend, when several journalists were targeted.
Organizers distributed flyers in which they condemned last week’s incident, stressing that anti-sectarian marches were part of “a peaceful movement that rejects violence.”
The flyers stressed that the movement was “independent from the March 8 and 14 coalitions.”
“No MP, minister or political leader represents our movement and its principles,” it said. “Banners addressing [Hezbollah’s] weapons or the Special Tribunal for Lebanon are not related to the goal of the movement.”
Marching from the museum to Downtown Beirut, protesters shouted “evolution, revolution,” and sang Marcel Khalifeh’s famous “Ya bahriyeh” (Oh Seamen) and called on those watching the demonstration from their balconies to join in.
“I don’t want any more civil wars and sectarian conflicts,” said George Dorlean, a 60-year-old university professor. “The only way to preserve the nation is to have a secular regime … we want to be citizens of one state, not members of [different] communities.”
Sahar Mughnieh, 24, agreed. “We want equal opportunities for all people no matter what their religion,” she said.
To 67-year-old Hussein al-Amine Lebanon’s sectarian system ought to be toppled, “because it will lead to [a second] civil war and the destruction of Lebanon.”
“Lebanon’s only hope is this group of people who are convinced of the slogan ‘down with confessional system,’” he said.
Protesters had planned to march to the Parliament in Downtown Beirut but were stopped by barriers and policemen positioned at Riad al-Solh Square, a few hundred meters in front of it.
Some 50 protesters clashed with the security forces after they tried to force their way to the Parliament by removing the barriers, as anti-riots police rushed to the scene to push them back and organizers shouted “peaceful movement” through loudspeakers.
Activist Maher Salloum said one officer told him he wanted to “break the legs” of the protesters.
“Obviously the police are determined to oppress us but it won’t affect our decision [to stick] to the non-violent character of this movement,” said Ali Dirani, one of the organizers.