Lebanon News

Students give extra momentum to uprising

Students gesture and shout slogans during a protest in the southern city of Sidon, where teachers and students went on strike, Lebanon November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

BEIRUT: Schoolchildren and university students left their classrooms Wednesday to give an extra jolt of momentum to the 20-plus day protests against rampant corruption in the ruling class.

Meanwhile, protesters continued a new strategy adopted this week by moving away from blocking roads toward holding protests at individual sites and state institutions. Protesters pushed forward with their strategy to target state institutions, with school and university students holding protests and marches in a number of different locations including Jounieh, Jbeil and Sidon.

Students showed up for school Wednesday morning but headed to the streets, demanding a better future and refusing to attend classes.

“I would never be part of a sect when I grow up. It’s all corruption upon corruption,” a young protester in front of the Education Ministry in Beirut said on live TV.

“We want a better future. We don’t only want to hang our [diplomas] on the wall,” another said.

Many students have expressed their fear of being forced to leave the country for work after they graduate, saying that they wanted to stay in Lebanon. Youth unemployment is estimated to be above 35 percent.

At a school in Tripoli, students used a crane to rescue fellow classmates who were locked inside their classrooms to allow them to join in with protests.

In Sidon, students ranging from middle school to university met in Eliya Square at 7 a.m., to march through the city. Numbers began to increase gradually, as the protesters blocked entrances to the city’s Electricite Du Liban and Ogero buildings.

“I felt proud ... they are free and are demanding freedom. I went out with them to protest, they left their class and I followed them,” Samar, a teacher at a school in Sidon, told The Daily Star.

Students in Sidon reacted, in part, to an audio recording that went viral Tuesday evening, in which a school principal from the Abra district threatened to expel students joining anti-government demonstrations.

“Any student that takes part in the protest [that] will be the last day for them in the school ... Is this clear?” said Sister Mona Wazen, headmistress of the Almakhlsaat secondary school.

The Education Ministry issued a statement condemning the content of Wazen’s audio message and called for an investigation into the incident. The order of the Basilian Chouerite Sisters, which oversees some convent schools including Almakhlasaat, also apologized, saying that Wazen’s decision to send out an audio message was done under “pressure placed on education officials.”

Protesters also gathered in front of the Justice Palace, demanding that the judiciary hold corrupt public figures accountable and “open all the dormant files” related to financial malfeasance.

“Fight corruption ... Do your job and we will be behind you until the end,” a protester in front of the Justice Palace told the local media.

Sessions scheduled at the Justice Palace were canceled as a result of the protests.

A large group of protesters then marched toward Ashrafieh, pausing at locations including at the American University of Science and Technology and Balamand University’s Ashrafieh branch. Demonstrators also held a sit-in outside the offices of the state-run Electricite du Liban near Gemmayzeh. Some carried signs that read “Honk if you are with the revolution,” prompting cars to sound their horns in support.

On Wednesday night, around 50 representatives from all of Lebanon’s universities held a meeting in Downtown Beirut’s Gebran Khalil Gebran Garden to unite their efforts and create a joint strategy for moving forward. Separately, hundreds of people victoriously walked the sands of Ramlet al-Baida Wednesday night after they entered the Eden Bay resort in protest against the private appropriation of public land.

The 21st day of mass anti-government protests focused on targeting state institutions in a decentralized manner, with protesters holding demonstrations in numerous locations across the country.

At least one person was injured at Eden Bay when riot police hit him over the head with a baton as demonstrators tried to enter the resort.

Shortly after, hundreds of protesters were able to enter the resort after breaking through a concrete wall that had been keeping them out, telling police “this is public property.”

“It was a beautiful natural coast and now it’s all concrete. They have given decrees to private sector that have built all along the coast and now we don’t have any physical or visual access to the coast,” Nahida Khalil told The Daily Star as she distributed information pamphlets to other protesters.

Approximately 300 protesters rallied in the march from Raouche to the Eden Bay resort, which sparked controversy when a license to build it on what is considered Beirut’s last public beach was granted in 2016. Three weeks in, protesters continued with high energy - singing the notorious protest chant of “Hela Hela Ho” as loudly as they could and carrying a banner that read, “Give Back the Coastal Property, Return the Stolen Money.”

Only 20 percent of Lebanon’s coastline is freely accessible to the public, according to head of Beirut’s Order of Engineers Jad Tabet.

Elsewhere, thousands of people walked from Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square to Riad al-Solh, carrying candles in honor of the Lebanese women who have taken a central role in the protests over the past three weeks.

A similar candlelit demonstration was also held in Sidon’s Eliya Square and Tripoli’s Al-Nour Square.

A soldier in Tripoli publicly announced his resignation from the Lebanese Army, telling the crowd he was “joining the ranks of the protesters” instead. Local media later reported that he was detained by Army Intelligence.

Baalbeck hosted a “pan march,” in which protesters walked through the ancient city banging on kitchen pots and pans. The clang of household utensils also rang out in many areas of Beirut.

However, not all protesters were convinced of the new strategy’s effectiveness. “When we opened the roads, everyone was obliged to go to work, their universities, their classes ... there aren’t as many people to exert pressure,” 20-year-old student Ali Slim said.

Public forum discussions occurring at Martyrs’ Square showed conflicting opinions on how to move forward. - Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari, Ghada Alsharif and Mehr Nadeem

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 07, 2019, on page 1.

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