10/20/2019, 14.33
LEBANON
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Amid protests, the 'Lebanese people' is born

by Pierre Balanian

Protests against all politicians have broken out from Tyre to Tripoli, from Nabatiyeh to Baalbek, from Beirut to Sidon. People are saying: "We are one hand: Christians, Muslims, Shias, Druze, Armenians, Alawis ... Confessionalism is dead.” For one Lebanese, “politicians who divide, us are united to steal from us.” Saad Hariri and Gebran Bassil are trying to deal with the situation, whilst Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah issues threats. All ministers with the Christian Forces party have resigned. Patriarch Rahi has called for a “state of economic emergency".

Beirut (AsiaNews) – “Now I can die in peace: I finally saw the birth of the Lebanese people,” said Antoine Abi Lama'a, 79, from Ashrafiyeh, the Christian district of the capital, speaking to AsiaNews. "Lebanon,” he adds, “was created as a country, without a truly united people.”

“For decades,” he explains, “everyone remained within their own religious community, fearful and suspicious, often defensive towards others, towards another confessions. Now poverty, injustice, the burden of thieving rulers has united us in pain. We are in the same boat; they can no longer divide us with fear of the other, whilst they, the politicians who divide us, are united to steal from us. We are finally a people; we are all Lebanese."

For anyone who knows Lebanon this union of everyone, beyond party, ethnic, religious affiliation, is amazing; it moves and scares the political clans that have governed and handed down their positions of power to their children for over half a century.

In the country’s cities, spontaneous grassroots unrest continues. From Tyre to Tripoli, from Nabatiyeh to Baalbek, from Beirut to Sidon, people have occupied the main streets and the squares, blocking the streets everywhere. It can be said without exaggeration that the people as a whole have risen, a people united for the first time in the history of their own country. Only the Lebanese flag waves, no flag or symbol of any other foreign country or political party can be seen.

Political reactions have been guarded. Yesterday Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil have asked for time to implement reforms. But protesters insist that "all politicians without distinction must leave, be arrested, executed and hand over the money accumulated and stolen from the State."

Hassan Nasrallah’ reaction has proven ineffectual. Yesterday, the general secretary of Hezbollah said that "the moment is wrong" even if the demands are right. Without naming it, he pointed the finger at Walid Jumblatt's party as the cause for the country’s political stalemate. The Druze leader’s response was quick. "Nasrallah cannot hold me responsible,” he said. “We all together must work to save the situation."

In his speech Nasrallah issued threats. "Allah does not want Hezbollah to take to the streets because if they did, they would be everywhere, and they would not leave the ground without getting what they want and without changing all the equations."

Warning about a possible power vacuum, he said that it would be disastrous for the country and in the end would be a waste of time because the same people would return to government. His advice to protesters is not to accept manipulation by the parties, not to loot but be respectful of everyone.

There is more. The Lebanese are now calling for a secular, non-denominational country. On the third day of unrest there are no more road blocks and burning tyres. Instead, there are tents, tables and waterpipes (shisha).

Protests that have spread across the country have turned into a festival, a carnival of joy for a people that found its unity and discovered that they are a one people. People are dancing, singing, and waving Lebanese flags everywhere and everyone is saying the same thing: "We are one hand: Christians, Muslims, Shias, Druze, Armenians, Alawis ... Confessionalism is dead.” For a Sunni man from Sidon, "It was the politicians who divided us. Why did they do that? For centuries we lived together like today. Why did they put us against each other for decades?”

Yesterday at 11.30 pm, Samir Geagea, general secretary of the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, announced the resignation of his ministers from the government. Protesters want everyone to do the same. This is only the beginning, and President Michel Aoun must be first one to resign. "All of them,” they say, “must be transferred from the government to prison."

Yesterday the police arrested some protesters because they stole shoes from a luxury store. People accuse law enforcement of cracking down on small offenders, whilst letting off the hook politicians have stolen billions from the state for years. Today, the army and law enforcement agencies did not intervene.

On social media, many are asking for the military to intervene against all politicians and put the country back on new tracks, towards free and fair elections with new faces, not the same ones that have been around for decades.

From Nigeria, where he is on a visit, Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi asked the government to declare a "state of economic emergency and hold meetings every day to find solutions and implement them, so that the state does not crumble."

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