image Photo: Reuters

Anti-government protests flare in Lebanon

Hundreds of protesters in Lebanon have once again flooded Beirut’s main square as part of the outcry over the technocratic government’s handling of the country’s alleged institutionalized corruption and failing economy.

Several months of tensions on the Lebanese streets had dissipated for a period of time due to a government-enacted coronavirus lockdown. Nevertheless, the government’s complacency to deal with the deep-rooted economic distress, in addition to alarming economic consequences of the coronavirus-related closure, renewed public unrest is once again amplifying the wide-ranging gap between the government’s declared activities and the reality on the ground.

”We have been protesting daily, we have sit-ins on the street, in front of the Justice Palace, in front of the Ministry of Finance and the Economy,” one protester told Reuters, adding that, “Our problems have yet to be solved, all we have are promises. (The Prime Minister claims) 97% of the government’s pledges have been carried out – but we have not seen even 1% on the ground.”

Among other expressed frustrations, the demonstrators also voiced growing anger toward the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which enjoys an increase of influence over the country’s institutions – a fact that inevitably impacts Lebanon’s international standing. Lebanese business owner John Moukarzel said, ”Today, the government has failed miserably. Firstly, it did not fight corruption, and it cannot fight it. As long as there are militias that are stronger than the state, then it (the government) will not be able to fight corruption. As long as there are leaders (of political groups) that are stronger than the state, then it cannot fight corruption. We demand that the state of Lebanon be stronger than the militias, we are demanding that the Lebanese army be in charge of all the country, so we can rebuild the economy. We cannot fight corruption, we cannot build the economy, we cannot receive international aid because of these militias, we don’t have tourists because of these militias because no one has trust in the government.

Lebanese attorney Marie-Nour Hojaimy commented, ”It is very strange because you can sense that everyone is tired and the situation is very hard, especially the economy, so you can sense that people no longer want to be festive (in their protests), people are just angry. And I am angry.”

The calls by the demonstrators to disarm Hezbollah from its weapons has subsequently infuriated the Iranian-proxy and its domestic Shi’ite allies, which vocally refuse to relinquish their “strong power,” since it grants them an edge over the other sectarian groups in Lebanon, including Christians, Sunni Muslims and Druze.