BEIRUT: Around 400 people marched from Dora, Greater Beirut, to the Electricite Du Liban building in Mar Mikhael Sunday calling for social justice and with the hope of re-launching the anti-sectarian movement that began nearly two years ago.
Protesters chanted anti-sectarian slogans as they marched through residential areas with the hope of generating interest from passersby.
“We want to get the idea back into people’s heads that the system is not working,” said Nadine Moawad, member of the feminist collective Nasawiya, which helped organize the demonstration.
“It’s the beginning of a series of actions and demonstrations to bring back the movements. It’s not a one-off thing.”
Moawad said the protest had been “small but effective.”
“The size reflects the independence of the march,” she said. “Every single political party told their followers to boycott the event.”
Among the demands of the protesters are better electricity, transportation, education, rent control wages and women’s rights.
“We’re bringing all the campaigns together,” Moawad explains.
“Sectarianism is responsible for everything. There’s nothing right in this country, no work, no benzine [fuel], nothing,” said 19-year-old chemistry student Carina Ayoubia, carrying a placard that read “No to [March] 14 and [March] 8. For complete health insurance and fair wages.”
The protest was advertised in the prior days as a funeral for EDL, the state electricity company which provides just 21 hours of electricity a day in Beirut, and less outside, and at the end of the march organizers hung a funeral wreath on the gates of the building.
Civil society demonstrations have been on the rise in recent years in Beirut, the first recent milestone being in April 2010 when 5,000 people marched from Ain Mraisseh to Parliament to demand an end to the sectarian system.
Then, in March last year, the movement saw its biggest demonstration to date, with 20,000 people marching from Beirut’s Ashrafieh district to the Interior Ministry in Sanayeh. Activists set up tents opposite the Parliament and held weekly demonstrations but the movement eventually lost momentum.
Some say activists were inspired in part by the start of the “Arab Spring,” following the toppling of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.
However, speaking to The Daily Star at the protest, 29-year-old engineer Mohammad said the anti-sectarian movement had important differences to the uprisings in the rest of the region.
“It’s not similar really to the Arab revolutions,” he said. “It’s going to take people a long time to make change.”
Active in last year’s anti-sectarian movement, he said the time was ripe for a rebirth.
“The movement’s a bit more mature now,” he said. “We understand more that it’s going to be a long-term, not a short-term thing.” – With additional reporting by Brooke Anderson