Lebanon News

‘Sunday of Unity’ rejuvenates protests

People shout slogans as they attend an anti-government protest in Beirut, Nov. 3, 2019. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Lebanon will start the week on a new wave of momentum, following a weekend of rejuvenated protests across the country, and calls for road closures and a general strike Monday.

Protesters gathered in their tens of thousands for the third consecutive Sunday since mass anti-government demonstrations began on Oct. 17, filling the streets and central squares of cities including Beirut, Tripoli and Tyre.

Protests have been held across Lebanon for 18 days, calling for the fall of the government, early elections and an end to the corrupt, sectarian system that has governed the country for decades.

Saad Hariri bowed to public pressure and submitted his resignation as prime minister, and that of his government, last Tuesday. Parliamentary consultations to appoint the person who will form a new government are expected to begin this week.

“Are we still here?” one of the emcees in Beirut asked Sunday. “Yes!” came the tumultuous reply from the crowd.

Hundreds marched through the streets of Nabatieh and neighboring Kfar Roummane, areas that had been subject to some of the worst violence since the protests began. At least 15 demonstrators were injured on Oct. 23 following a scuffle with police trying to open a blocked road.

In Sidon, protesters again closed the southern city’s central Elia intersection in all four directions. A convoy of motorbikes did laps, waving a Lebanese flag that they had carried with them from Tripoli.

One woman danced in the middle of the road to revolutionary songs and shouted “God, Lebanon, the Army.”

Over the past two weeks, protesters have been engaged in a back and forth with the Army, intermittently opening and closing the intersection. Five protesters were injured Friday in scuffles with the Army in the area. The day before, dozens gathered at the intersection, waving signs that read, “Honk if you’re with the revolution.”

As he returned to classes Saturday, 16-year-old Mohammad Wasat sat at the front of his school bus, calling out “Revolutionaries, revolutionaries, we want to continue the [struggle].” His fellow classmates repeated his chant in unison. “We don’t want to go to school, not because we hate learning, but to finish our revolution,” he told The Daily Star.

A number of other roads were blocked by protesters Sunday evening, including in Akkar, the Bekaa Valley and at the Chevrolet intersection near Furn al-Shubbak and the “Ring Bridge.”

Protesters briefly clashed with the Army in Jal al-Dib as they marched from an internal road to the main highway. The highway had been closed in both directions for days, until the Army forced demonstrators to remove their cars and tents Wednesday.

Meanwhile, protesters on the main highway that connects Beirut to south Lebanon handed out roses to drivers as they passed the town of Barja.

Sunday’s sunshine offered a marked contrast to Saturday, when turnout was relatively low across the country.

Tripoli was once again the notable exception. Videos and photographs of a dynamic light show and DJ set in the city’s Al-Nour Square went viral on Twitter Saturday evening.

Earlier, buses took protesters from Beirut and the Bekaa Valley to join the demonstration in Tripoli.

Sunday, however, the traffic went in the other direction, bringing Tripolitans to the Beirut protests.

Among them was Madi Karimeh, the DJ whose music and light shows have caused a storm on social media. He gave yet another energetic performance in Martyrs’ Square Sunday, energizing the thousands-strong crowd.

Also in Beirut Sunday, hundreds of feminists of all genders marched from the National Museum to Riad al-Solh Square chanting “Down with the rule of thugs” and carrying banners that read “The patriarchy kills.”

Sara Matar was one of the women leading the feminist march through Downtown Beirut, wearing a black T-shirt bearing the words “Our revolution is feminist.”

“We marched from Mathaf to announce that we are against corruption, against violence against women, against the whole system,” she told The Daily Star.

Women have taken a leading role in many of the protests that have swept across the country, standing on the front lines between demonstrators and security forces, leading chants and preparing food for hungry protesters.

“We are here as women to show that we are leaders, we can make decisions for our country,” Matar added.

Just off the square, a crowd gathered around a new protest installation: Gallows with three people dressed in white robes hanging from them. They held signs that read “Sectarianism” and “1975,” the year the Civil War began.

Local TV channel Al-Jadeed aired a special show, titled “Down with the Rule of the Corrupt,” which had been shown Thursday, on a giant screen next to the Azarieh Building in Downtown Beirut. The 3.5 hour program featured reports and debate on corruption and illicit deals made by dozens of Lebanese officials.

Earlier in the day, followers of President Michel Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement gathered near the presidential palace in Baadba for a demonstration in support of the president and his party.

The president gave an impromptu speech to his loyalists, in which he said, “I am with you and I love all of you, and all of you means all of you.” One of the most popular chants of the 18 days of protests has been “All of them means all of them,” calling for all politicians to fall.

Caretaker Foreign Minister and FPM head Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, also addressed the crowd, saying, “We should block roads for MPs who refuse corruption-combating laws, politicians who escape accountability and judges who do not implement the law.”

Once again, Lebanese expatriates around the world staged protests in solidarity with their home country, in locations including in Paris, Berlin and London. - Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 04, 2019, on page 1.




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