BEIRUT: The Lebanese Communist Party (LCP) struck back at the head of Beirut Traders Association Thursday, after he labeled communist protesters as “economic charlatans” and called for keeping Beirut’s Downtown a “classy” area.
The exchange comes one day after the latest protest staged by anti-government activists in Downtown’s Martyrs Square ended with police attacking and detaining around 40 demonstrators. The LCP and a number of other leftist groups had a promised to participate in the movement.
Beirut Traders Association’s chief Nicolas Chammas accused communists of exploiting the demonstrations to advance their agendas and “drift the movement away from its path.”
“We are warning them (civil society movements), we are asking them to be aware of the infiltrators among them who start riots,” Chammas said in a news conference for the Economic Committees, Lebanon’s largest businessmen and bankers lobby.
“But there are people who are even more dangerous [than rioters]: these are the economic charlatans, the remaining communists, the residues of communism and Marxism who even Russia and China have spit out.”
Footage of his remarks uploaded by Al-Jadeed TV can be viewed here:
The LCP responded to the businessman’s attack by accusing him of “defending the money-whales and the corrupt political class,” describing Chammas as the “worst example” among the tycoons.
“Mr. Chammas’s expression of enmity towards Lebanese communists comes in fact from a sense of enmity toward the movement, its role and its demands, especially since it condemns the corrupt political class,” LCP’s statement said.
Chammas accused leftists of “trying to create class warfare in Lebanon.”
“We should be aware of this because we do not accept people that fuel such strife,” he said. “Here, in this room and in the [Beirut] Traders Association, we have been carrying the liberal economy on our shoulders for 100 years, and we will not allow, God forbid, the destruction of this economy.”
Chammas also accused communists of persuading the Lebanese masses that Beirut’s Downtown did not belong to them.
“The commercial central district is for all the Lebanese and this is how late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri wanted it. It is a source of pride for Lebanon, because it hosts the headquarters of [government] institutions as well as those of the largest Lebanese banks, which we are proud of, the classiest restaurants and hotels and the most prestigious shops.”
“No one should expect that we would accept the central district becoming Abu Rakhussa,” he said, referring to a Lebanese street term meaning shops that sell low-budget items. “This is forbidden!”
“The commercial central district will remain as classy as it currently is, and will remain a hub and destination to the whole Arab world.”
“Mr. Chammas’s stance is the latest in his famous record of opposing the interest of the popular classes and their rights, which was apparent in the past when he opposed the Union Coordination Committee and its rightful demands that would help more than half a million Lebanese people,” LCP responded.
“We are very happy that the movement has disturbed you, because this is proof of its correct political orientation, which is toward a civil democratic state, which provokes you just by hearing about it, and its economic orientation to save the Lebanese economy from a coterie like yours.”
Downtown Beirut has witnessed frequent protests since the birth of the You Stink movement in July. One demonstration ended in a riot, where young men clashed with police and smashed glass shop windows and traffic lights. Walls surrounding Riad al-Solh Square were plastered with anti-establishment graffiti, including writings calling for "overthrowing Solidere," the company that handled the area's reconstruction after the 15-year Civil War.
The large number of businesses belonging to multi-national companies and large financial institutions in the area had sparked accusations that Solidare created an area only accessible to tourists or the upper class.
Chammas warned activists against trying to “achieve social demands “over the corpse of the Lebanese economy.”
“This will not happen,” he asserted. “We are telling you, do not lose the path. If you shake the economy, the economic structure will collapse on your heads before anyone else’s.”
“May God enlighten everyone’s minds, and may God direct us on the right path to protect and defend Lebanon.”
The communists again fired back at the threat, accusing the Economic Committees of working only for their own financial interests.
“The Lebanese Communist Party and its unionists defended the Lebanese economy that your coterie has destroyed for the sake of [supporting] the rentier economy, real estate companies and banks.”