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Monday the 20th of January marks the end of one the most violent weekends in Lebanon’s capital. Years of a volatile political climate, social unrest, and decline in quality of life have led to strong public resentment. Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th of January saw violence between anti-government groups and riot police escalate in Marty’s square, outside the now heavily fortified parliament building. Government forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse crowds attempting to breach the parliament barricade with protestors responding with stones and fireworks. Further reports cite that police were setting fire to protestors tents in attempts to dispel the now organized and equipped protest movement.
The red cross has reported that 460 people on both sides were wounded, caught in up in clashes between enforcement and organized protest groups. Raed al-Arja, a 50-year-old truck driver who, like many protesting, recently lost his job. He was critical of the current crisis, stating ‘they lied to us, they told us they would fix the country, by we realized that the ones who destroyed the country can’t fix it’. This exemplifies how anger and frustration dominate the mood of protestors.
Continuing 3 months after the resignation of the PM Saad Hariri, caused by widespread reports of state corruption and collusion, the protest movement is calling for independent technocrats to come into power. This would mark a move away from the traditional political parties and the polarised Sectarian Democracy in Lebanon. Protestors believe radical change is the only way to solve the countries socio-economic issues. In Beirut, the heart of the political crisis, these tension shows no signs of ebbing as protestors are taking action into their own hands.
This comes at a time where people from around the country continue to demand full political reform after years of social destitution, recently cumulating in the growing economic crisis. Here banks are limiting withdrawals, unemployment is on the rise and inflation rates increasing. The weakening of the economy is having a direct impact on businesses and as they begin to close the protests are only set to increase. Any violence on either side is met with retaliation and is exacerbating the conflict. I believe the new PM Hassan Diab must do more to find a peaceful solution to the conflict as Lebanese people are running out of options to support their families and protect the welfare of their communities.
Along with the violence the rhetoric is also escalating as people are now calling for ‘revolution’. Significantly, the recent cabinet, that was elected on the 21st has failed to significantly diverge from previous corrupt administrations. Faysal Itani, deputy director for the Global Policy Think Tank (U.S.A.) stated that “the benchmark for what is acceptable is so far from the likely reality that we are placed on a collision course”. With protestors set to continue beyond the 100th day, the Organisation for World Peace calls for more open communication to ensure that an amicable solution can be found.
The World Bank has reported that with nation-wide failures in public services, specifically in healthcare and education, poverty levels will continue to rise. It could increase to include almost half the population in the coming months. The Lebanese nation is already under pressure having housed 1.5 million refugees from the Syrian conflict. This reinforces a need for a resolution to the Lebanese political disagreements to provide more stability to the region. Seeking inclusive discussion is the only way forward as this will limit violent clashes on the streets which have failed to change the political situation thus far.