Date: Nov 4, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
‘Sunday of Unity’ rejuvenates protests
Rising up, from Beirut to Tripoli and back
Emily Lewis| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanon will start the week on a new wave of momentum, following a weekend of rejuvenated protests across the country, and calls for road closures and a general strike Monday.

Protesters gathered in their tens of thousands for the third consecutive Sunday since mass anti-government demonstrations began on Oct. 17, filling the streets and central squares of cities including Beirut, Tripoli and Tyre.

Protests have been held across Lebanon for 18 days, calling for the fall of the government, early elections and an end to the corrupt, sectarian system that has governed the country for decades.

Saad Hariri bowed to public pressure and submitted his resignation as prime minister, and that of his government, last Tuesday. Parliamentary consultations to appoint the person who will form a new government are expected to begin this week.

“Are we still here?” one of the emcees in Beirut asked Sunday. “Yes!” came the tumultuous reply from the crowd.

Hundreds marched through the streets of Nabatieh and neighboring Kfar Roummane, areas that had been subject to some of the worst violence since the protests began. At least 15 demonstrators were injured on Oct. 23 following a scuffle with police trying to open a blocked road.

In Sidon, protesters again closed the southern city’s central Elia intersection in all four directions. A convoy of motorbikes did laps, waving a Lebanese flag that they had carried with them from Tripoli.

One woman danced in the middle of the road to revolutionary songs and shouted “God, Lebanon, the Army.”

Over the past two weeks, protesters have been engaged in a back and forth with the Army, intermittently opening and closing the intersection. Five protesters were injured Friday in scuffles with the Army in the area. The day before, dozens gathered at the intersection, waving signs that read, “Honk if you’re with the revolution.”

As he returned to classes Saturday, 16-year-old Mohammad Wasat sat at the front of his school bus, calling out “Revolutionaries, revolutionaries, we want to continue the [struggle].” His fellow classmates repeated his chant in unison. “We don’t want to go to school, not because we hate learning, but to finish our revolution,” he told The Daily Star.

A number of other roads were blocked by protesters Sunday evening, including in Akkar, the Bekaa Valley and at the Chevrolet intersection near Furn al-Shubbak and the “Ring Bridge.”

Protesters briefly clashed with the Army in Jal al-Dib as they marched from an internal road to the main highway. The highway had been closed in both directions for days, until the Army forced demonstrators to remove their cars and tents Wednesday.

Meanwhile, protesters on the main highway that connects Beirut to south Lebanon handed out roses to drivers as they passed the town of Barja.

Sunday’s sunshine offered a marked contrast to Saturday, when turnout was relatively low across the country.

Tripoli was once again the notable exception. Videos and photographs of a dynamic light show and DJ set in the city’s Al-Nour Square went viral on Twitter Saturday evening.

Earlier, buses took protesters from Beirut and the Bekaa Valley to join the demonstration in Tripoli.

Sunday, however, the traffic went in the other direction, bringing Tripolitans to the Beirut protests.

Among them was Madi Karimeh, the DJ whose music and light shows have caused a storm on social media. He gave yet another energetic performance in Martyrs’ Square Sunday, energizing the thousands-strong crowd.

Also in Beirut Sunday, hundreds of feminists of all genders marched from the National Museum to Riad al-Solh Square chanting “Down with the rule of thugs” and carrying banners that read “The patriarchy kills.”

Sara Matar was one of the women leading the feminist march through Downtown Beirut, wearing a black T-shirt bearing the words “Our revolution is feminist.”

“We marched from Mathaf to announce that we are against corruption, against violence against women, against the whole system,” she told The Daily Star.

Women have taken a leading role in many of the protests that have swept across the country, standing on the front lines between demonstrators and security forces, leading chants and preparing food for hungry protesters.

“We are here as women to show that we are leaders, we can make decisions for our country,” Matar added.

Just off the square, a crowd gathered around a new protest installation: Gallows with three people dressed in white robes hanging from them. They held signs that read “Sectarianism” and “1975,” the year the Civil War began.

Local TV channel Al-Jadeed aired a special show, titled “Down with the Rule of the Corrupt,” which had been shown Thursday, on a giant screen next to the Azarieh Building in Downtown Beirut. The 3.5 hour program featured reports and debate on corruption and illicit deals made by dozens of Lebanese officials.

Earlier in the day, followers of President Michel Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement gathered near the presidential palace in Baadba for a demonstration in support of the president and his party.

The president gave an impromptu speech to his loyalists, in which he said, “I am with you and I love all of you, and all of you means all of you.” One of the most popular chants of the 18 days of protests has been “All of them means all of them,” calling for all politicians to fall.

Caretaker Foreign Minister and FPM head Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, also addressed the crowd, saying, “We should block roads for MPs who refuse corruption-combating laws, politicians who escape accountability and judges who do not implement the law.”

Once again, Lebanese expatriates around the world staged protests in solidarity with their home country, in locations including in Paris, Berlin and London. - Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari.

Rising up, from Beirut to Tripoli and back

Timour Azhari| The Daily Star
TRIPOLI/BEIRUT: Whether it is referred to as the “heart,” the “bride” or the “reservoir” of the revolution, the fact is that Tripoli has drawn the most consistently impressive crowds of any city in Lebanon during 18 days straight of popular uprising.

Even when numbers dwindled in Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and the south, thousands filled the northern city’s Al-Nour Square, chanting for the downfall of the ruling class, dancing, singing and captivating the country.

Locals who spoke to The Daily Star Saturday night said unparalleled economic hardship in Tripoli was the main reason they continued to return to the streets.

“There is so much poverty and deprivation here that, no matter how this turns out, things will be better,” Salwa, an 84-year-old Tripoli resident said, walking slowly toward Al-Nour Square with her husband. “I just hope they don’t get tired, but it doesn’t seem like they are going to.”

While demonstrations may have dwindled elsewhere, the Tripoli protests have remained substantial - and people have taken notice. Many Beirutis headed up to Tripoli Saturday, both to support the protests there and to invite the city’s residents to a large demonstration planned in the capital the following day.

“We wanted to show that this movement is about decentralizing the country,” Eric, a 26-year-old fashion designer from Beirut, told The Daily Star from Al-Nour Square Saturday night. Thousands stood around him, chanting “All of them means all of them” - the rallying cry of a protest movement united in its demand for the downfall of all of the country’s major postwar politicians.

Eric went up to Tripoli in a 12-car convoy of friends. “We organized this to call them to Beirut tomorrow to show our unity, because the numbers in Beirut are down,” he said. “The Aounis are also going to have a counterdemo at the presidential palace. We need to show everyone that we have numbers, too.”

The plan appears to have worked. The demonstration by supporters of President Michel Aoun Sunday brought out thousands, but was dwarfed by the Beirut protest and the other smaller gatherings that took place from Tripoli to Nabatieh, Sidon and Tyre.

“We are here to stand with our brothers in Beirut and be together, and bring down the system together. All of them means all of them,” Mohammad Abdullah, a taxi driver and father of five from Tripoli, told The Daily Star in Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square Sunday.

He said he was in the capital following a call from the Beiruti protesters who had come to Tripoli the night before. “We appreciated that they came to us and we decided to return the favor,” he said. “We are from different areas, but I know that many here in Beirut, in Dahiyeh [Beirut’s southern suburbs], also don’t have bread at home. That unites us as Lebanese.”

Abdullah had made the journey as part of a 25-bus convoy loaded with 1,000 people, and said another 800 were on the way.

People including a 39-year-old NGO worker named Mohammad pitched in LL5,000 ($3) to rent the buses and pay for fuel.

“It’s important for us to continue showing that we aren’t satisfied simply with the resignation of the government, and to do that, we need to bring together all the squares of Lebanon,” he told The Daily Star. “Lebanon has already given huge support to Tripoli, so we’re here in Beirut now in the spirit of unity.”

Mohammad said it might be true that areas such as Tripoli were in a worse economic state than Beirut, and that every area had its own demands based on local issues. But everyone agreed that politicians had to pay the price for years of mismanagement and corruption.

“We have all been brought together by this decentralized protest. Zouk Mosbeh is different to Jal al-Dib or Akkar or Beirut, but we are all saying that this rule of sectarianism and corruption is not for us, and we want it to fall,” he said.

This level of cross-country collaboration is new for protests in Lebanon. In the past, they have been largely based in the capital.

That much was clear during the 2015 garbage crisis and even during the uprising against Syrian occupation in 2005.

Serge, a 41-year-old who traveled to Tripoli from Beirut Saturday, said this solidarity between communities would be essential going forward.

He added that people protesting in the south, many of whom have braved intimidation and violence by supporters of the locally powerful Amal Movement and Hezbollah, should be next in line for a similar display of solidarity.

“The counterrevolution is mounting, so it’s important to have cities communicating more and building networks,” he said. “We need to help those who are most in need.”