Protests began in October 2019 and have already succeeded in ousting the prime minister. However authorities appear to be in no mood for further protests.

An anti-government protester stands atop his car and waves a national flag as others block a main highway in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020.
An anti-government protester stands atop his car and waves a national flag as others block a main highway in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. (Bilal Hussein / AP)

Tens of thousands of Lebanese people have been protesting against the ruling class since October last year. 

Initially protests were against planned taxes on everyday items, such as petrol, tobacco, and online phone calls via applications like WhatsApp. The protests soon evolved into a mass movement packed with demonstrators frustrated with the way the country is run.

The protests in 2019 culminated in the resignation of the prime minister, Saad Hariri, on October 29. However for the protesters, while a step in the right direction, this was not sufficient, as they sought to replace all figureheads at the top of the government and in prominent political positions.

It was hoped that the appointment of Hassan Diab as prime minister-designate, would quell the protest movement but demonstrations have reappeared regardless. The latest are distinguished from earlier ones by their violence, as police officers attack those voicing their grievances.

Lebanese security forces used batons and tear gas to disperse demonstrations while protesters broke the glass windows of banks and threw stones at security forces.

With state forces and civilian protesters fighting daily on the streets, a political deadlock continues, preventing the country from moving forward. The previous prime minister’s resignation has left the country in turmoil, and Diab faces the challenge of forming a new cabinet that satisfies both Lebanon’s political forces and the protesters.

Additionally, there is still no new government to replace the old one, nor is there an economic rescue plan. As a result, protesters are already demanding the resignation of Diab.

According  to rights organisation Amnesty International, key violations of protesters’ rights by the Lebanese authorities include: Failure to protect peaceful protesters, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, forcibly dispersing protesters, use of excessive force such as bullets and batons, and unblocking roads by force using large vehicles.

Such mistreatment of protesters, along with the authorities’ refusal to give in to their demands, has only prolonged the current crisis. On Twitter, some users were optimistic while others pointed to the police violence, sharing their hesitation about whether the crisis can ever be resolved.

On Twitter, self-declared “pessoptimist writer” Joey Ayoub shared a Lebanese chant, one that calls out for “revolution in every country” while mentioning other lands in which there are mass protests or revolts: Hong Kong, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan, Chile, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Palestine.

Jad Chaaban, A Lebanese economist tweeted about the “unprecedented wave of police violence” and its effects on Lebanese protesters who are being treated poorly.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch condemned the violent way police has handled the protests on January 15, contrasting the “overwhelmingly peaceful” protesters with “vicious” riot police attacks and calling for a “swift independent and transparent” investigation.

Similarly, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Research, said: “Acts by a minority of protesters who vandalised banks or threw stones is never a justification for such excessive use of force and sweeping arrests by law enforcement,” adding that Amnesty is also “alarmed” that security forces “attacked” media workers.

Maalouf noted “It has been over 90 days since the beginning of the overwhelmingly peaceful protests amidst the Lebanese authorities’ blatant failure to address protesters’ demands and their concerns about the impact of the economic crisis,” calling attention to the deadlock between the authorities and the protesters.

“We call on the authorities to immediately end the use of excessive force, release immediately anyone detained for peaceful protest, and hold those responsible for arbitrary or abusive force responsible in a transparent and impartial manner,” she concluded.

Source: TRT World