Lebanon News

After roadblocks, protesters shift focus to state institutions

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the controversial new touch building in Downtown Beirut. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: As Lebanon nears the end of its third week of anti-establishment protests, demonstrators have adopted a new tactic, occupying and surrounding state institutions.

“Closing the roads doesn’t do any good anymore,” 50-year-old Nadine told The Daily Star at the entrance to Nijmeh Square, where the Lebanese Parliament buildings are located. Nadine and dozens of other protesters stationed themselves at the square’s northern gate Tuesday evening and briefly blocked the busy road that runs in front of it.

“This location is very significant,” said Nadine, who declined to provide her surname. “This Parliament belongs to us. The people elected it and now we’re telling them it’s time to go.”

Lebanese have been protesting for 20 days against corruption, the squandering of public funds and the sectarian political system that has been in place for decades. After nearly two weeks, Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29, bringing the government down with him.

“We protested in front of the Grand Serail, and Hariri fell, now we are here to put pressure on Parliament,” said 23-year-old student Abdullah, who declined to provide his surname.

Following the premier’s resignation, it is now Parliament’s task to hold consultations with President Michel Aoun to name the person who will form the next government.

The two most likely options for the formation of the next Cabinet are either a government of technocrats or what is being dubbed a techno-political Cabinet.

Protesters are skeptical that the second option would prove any more successful in effective policymaking than previous governments.

“What does [techno-political] even mean?” Nadine asked. “Do they think we’re stupid?”

Parliament was not the only state institution targeted by protesters Tuesday. Demonstrations were also held outside the state-run Electricte du Liban in Gemmayzeh, Tripoli’s municipality building and Nabatieh’s branches of the Central Bank and LibanPost, among others.

Dozens more gathered outside the headquarters of state-owned mobile operator touch in Gemmayzeh, as well as outside the company’s controversial new building in Downtown Beirut.

Earlier this year, caretaker Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Choucair was criticized for his decision to purchase the building, located on some of Lebanon’s most expensive real estate.

His decision came shortly after Lebanese officials passed an austerity budget, in a bid to address the country’s dire economic situation.

Another group headed to the upscale Zaitunay Bay area to highlight corruption and the illegal acquisition of coastal properties in Lebanon. Less than 20 percent of Lebanon’s coastline is freely accessible to the public, with many private beach resorts charging prohibitive entrance fees.

Hundreds of people marched around the ancient city of Baalbeck, carrying Lebanese flags behind a truck with giant speakers that blasted out revolutionary songs and chants. Tripoli’s Al-Nour Square was also once again filled with enthusiastic protesters.

Back in Beirut, students of the American University of Science and Technology in Ashrafieh held a sit-in in front of the school’s main entrance, in an effort to convince the administration to suspend classes. Scuffles broke out when Army personnel attempted to remove the students from the area.

A video circulated showing soldiers and university security guards shouting and pushing protesters.

Around noon, students at the Lebanese American University in Jbeil briefly blocked the road leading to the campus, denying staff and other students access.

Caretaker Education Minister Akram Chehayeb issued a statement later in the day, expressing his “sympathy” with the students and calling for their right to protest to be protected.

In Sidon, many students refused to attend classes and joined other protesters in a demonstration at the central Elia intersection.

Earlier in the day, the Army opened major roads across the country, after protesters had continued to block them in a bid to pressure politicians to quickly form a new government of experts.

In Zouk Mosbeh, the Army detained over a dozen protesters after they refused to open the highway. The soldiers surrounded the protesters, who sat in the middle of the roadway, before carrying them to the side of the road to clear the way for cars.

However, the situation escalated when two older men fainted and were seen lying on the ground.

“Are we Israelis? Why are they doing that to us?” one demonstrator shouted.

Just along the road in Jal al-Dib, around a hundred soldiers forced open the highway, moving cars blocking the northbound lane as protesters stood their ground on the southbound side.

Eventually, the Army removed the protesters and dismantled the tents and stage they had set up in the area.

Dozens of other roads and highways were reopened across the country Tuesday morning without major incident, including the “Ring Bridge,” which has been a focal point of Beirut’s demonstrations over the last week. - Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 06, 2019, on page 2.

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