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The people of Lebanon do not give up

LEBANON"We will go home when the government goes home," said protesters at Riad al-Solh in Beirut.

(PS. This article is machine-translated from Norwegian)

After nine days of unrest reacted Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah. Faced with the biggest demonstration in Lebanon's history, where participants demand a replacement of both the government and the system and a break in religion-based power distribution, he ventures into the Middle East's most typical defense tactic: the allegation of foreign conspiracy. "Who pays for all this?" He asked. "Who pays for the food, the tents, the music?"

"So what? And what about you? Supported by Iran? ”Was the response of the protesters to Riad al-Solh, Beirut main square. One by one, hundreds of protesters uploaded a clear message on YouTube: "I pay."

We noticed that for the first time, Hassan Nasrallah spoke with the Lebanese flag on his right, instead of the flag of Hezbollah. Not the flag of his Shia, but the flag of everyone.

A unified people

Lebanon does not give up. It started with a new tax: on the messaging service WhatsApp. Not so much, equivalent to twenty cents a day. But on October 17, almost two in six million Lebanese poured into the streets and squares, and there they are. "We go home when the government goes home," the people say. And by "government" they mean all public servants.

Photo: Truls Lie
Photo: Truls Lie

I Lebanon 25 percent of the population lives in poverty. A further 55 per cent live on the poverty line. The most important source of income is transfers. "With such figures, such structural problems, what is the government doing? What plans does it have? "The well-known radio host Nizar Hassan (26) asks, and we know the answer:" A tax on WhatsApp. "

And that's why it continues protests, despite the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the end of October.

Chain of Protestants

The protests are everywhere. 27. In October, the Lebanese held hands and formed an 168 kilometer chain that stretched from Tripoli in the north to Tire in the south. "We're all in the streets and we're standing together," says Nizar Hassan. "It's not just the poor. There are people with higher education without job opportunities, traders who are cut off from an economy based on a monopoly controlled by a few families. There are even better-off individuals who have not – or have lost – the right contacts with those in power. We are all here, for whatever reason we have nothing to lose, ”says Nizar Hassan.

Nothing works

With debt amounting to 150 percent of GDP (gross domestic product), Lebanon is now classified by rating agencies as "C". And lower than C is not possible – then you are bankrupt. The trigger for the protests was not really the tax on WhatsApp – although this caught the interest of foreign media. The spark that lit the protesters is literal: Last summer, hundreds of forest fires broke out in the forests around Beirut. The fires spread with the help of the heat wave and strong wind. The firefighters had little to put up with: Three helicopters at a price tag of 13,9 million dollars, partly paid for with donations, were on the ground for maintenance.

"There is money, enough money for all of us. But the money is not fair
distributed »Lawyer Amjad Ramadan (28)

The Lebanese had to fend for themselves as usual. They used rugs, private fire extinguishers and garden hoses. Somehow, they managed to overcome the flames. "That's when we realized we were better off on our own, that we didn't need these baskets," says people outside Plan Bey, a publishing house that is a popular place for artists.

In Lebanon, nothing works. The water is not safe to drink. There are daily power outages. There is more than one year waiting list in the hospitals. Even airplanes can crash at any moment: The government has failed to establish a waste management system, and a new landfill has been created right next to Beirut airport. The consequence is that you risk getting gulls in the aircraft engines.

Social revolution

In Lebanon, politics is tantamount to the distribution of power and money. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has a fortune of 1,3 billion. He halted the wages of the TV channel's journalists and apologized for the crisis, but at the same time gave away 16 million dollars to his South African lover. And asking the Lebanese what they want is one of the points toward the end of a long list of claims this: "We want the money they have back in their foreign accounts."

Beirut Photo: Truls Lie
Photo: Truls Lie

First and foremost, the Lebanese say there is one social revolution, that it's about more than politics. They not only want a new government, they want a new mindset. They are tired of the sectarian system of 18 religious groups and over 100 political parties. A system dating from 1989 after 15 years of civil war.

"It was a system that created a state but not a government," says attorney Amjad Ramadan (28) while handing out some food. He has paid for the food himself, so that the poor can also attend the demonstration in the Riad al-Solh square.

"Not only is everything split between Sunnis, Shi'ites and Christians, and skills do not matter. In addition, the government is turning to private subcontractors who are only concerned about profits, ”he says. “We pay for electricity twice. In your home, the power is gone in let's say seven hours at a time. During these hours, you have to pay for a generator – at a price that is 3,5 times higher than the usual rate. ”And this is just one example; everything in Lebanon is like that, he claims. "If you protest, you will hear that there is no money. But that is not true. There is money, enough money for all of us. But the money is not fairly distributed, ”he points out.

Beirut Photo Truls Lie
Photo: Truls Lie

It's not over

In Lebanon, 0,3 percent of the population owns 48 percent of the wealth. It is Tahrir Square in Cairo in reprisal, and the "99 percent" community. The Arab Spring slogans are ringing, and a shabby Syrian refugee selling sandwiches says weepingly: "It's not over, it's not over." Riad al-Solh recalls the events in 2011 also for another reason: Lebanese protesters are disorganized . They don't want an organization either. They want everyone to mean just as much. "But who started it all?" I ask. Who had the idea to come here? And the answer is simply: Al-shaab. The people. There is no leader, no name. Nothing.

In Lebanon, nothing works.

I find a kind of answer in Gemmayzeh, which is now the back of Riad al-Solh. This is the heart of Beirut's nightlife, and this part of the city is as delightful and creative as New York. While the government is trying to deal with power outages with old generators, you will find highly educated people from the best universities in Europe. They design solar parks and wind turbines to be built worldwide. The contrast becomes great between them and the country's president, 84 year old Michel Aoun, who was chief of staff in the army during the civil war. He is like from another planet – like so many others.

If we had a structure, a spokesman, divided us into groups and divided tasks, many would immediately claim that the CIA or George Soros is behind this. It would split us and trigger a search for someone to buy or partner with, people say. Their demands are clear: “We do not want compromises. We want them to step down. All together. Without exception."

Many wear national flag jackets, as if to say: We belong to Lebanon. For while international experts are analyzing Lebanon's future for Sunni Muslims and Shiites, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese want something simple: Elections, and with one rule: one citizen, one vote. Ultimately, the demands of the protesters are quite basic.

Today, a young engineer came forward and said, "I'm 28 years, and I only have 10 000 lira." Five dollars. Then he added, "What else should I say?"

Translated by Iril Kolle

Also read: Luxury and decadence in Beirut

Francesca Borri
Borri is a war correspondent and writes regularly for Ny Tid.

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