Daily Briefing: Large Scale Protests Against Corruption Erupt in Lebanon (October 28th,2019)

Lebanon Rally for Peace July 18th outside of the Eaton Centre

Table of Contents:

A Massive Protest Movement Emerges In Lebanon. What Does It Mean?: Dr. Elie Abouaoun, US Institute of Peace, Oct. 22, 2019

Lebanon Is Experiencing A Social Revolution:  Lina Khatib, AlJazeera, Oct. 20, 2019

Lebanon Protests Rock Hezbollah’s Grip on Power. That’s Cause for Hope — but Also Danger: Sulome Anderson, NBC News, Oct. 25, 2019

Demonstrations in Lebanon are ‘A moment of Truth for Hezbollah’:  Marc Daou, France 24, Oct. 25, 2019


A Massive Protest Movement Emerges In Lebanon. What Does It Mean?
Dr. Elie Abouaoun
US Institute of Peace, Oct. 22, 2019

Over the last week, mass protests broke out across Lebanon, signaling citizens’ mounting discontent with their government and economy. Millions of Lebanese of all backgrounds, including Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Druze from across the socio-economic spectrum hit the streets to express their exasperation with the country’s endemic corruption. Although not a cohered uniform movement, protesters have several commons core demands, including the resignation of the current cabinet; a new government composed of technocrats who would usher in political, economic, and administrative reforms; and the lifting of taxes on poor communities. The government announced on Monday emergency economic reforms in an effort to assuage protesters. Will it be enough? USIP’s Elie Abouaoun takes a closer look at what sparked the protests, the impact on Lebanon’s highly polarized politics, and possible scenarios for the next few weeks.

What is behind the spate of large-scale protests in Lebanon?

Well, the direct trigger was a recent decision by the government to impose taxes on all voice over internet protocol applications, like WhatsApp. However, this is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Over the last two years, many of Lebanon’s economic and social equities were fading away. After a boom in the real estate sector between 2008 and 2015, a 2017 recession has weighed heavily on the economy, including a recent rise in interest rates and a suspension of the subsidized housing loans provided through the state-run Public Corporation for Housing. This has affected the wider economy and caused a spike in inflation.

This has been compounded in the last few months by a steady decrease in the foreign reserves of the Central Bank, hindering its ability to counter increasing speculation on the national currency. For the first time since 1992, the fixed exchange rate of the Lebanese pound (LBP) against the U.S. dollar (USD) rose from 1507 LBP to 1 USD to 1,600-1,700 per dollar, reviving a dormant black market of forex dealers. Despite the Lebanese banking sector’s solid reputation, the banks started to restrict access to U.S. greenbacks. Many experts attribute the decrease in the availability of foreign reserves to reasons ranging from the U.S. sanctions on Hezbollah and the Syrian regime—resulting in many essential commodities for Syria being bought through Lebanese banks—as well as the declining remittances of the Lebanese expatriates.

Other issues driving the protests include rampant corruption and ineffective governance, including by parties who overpromised the population that they would engage in an ambitious reform program in the lead up to the 2018 legislative elections and have failed to do so. Further, the explosive mix of economic hardship and underperforming political parties, combined to create an untenable situation. It can only be resolved by political leaders willing to take painful decisions, and we haven’t seen the political will for that so far. Instead, successive governments have periodically resorted to adding new consumption taxes that disproportionately hit the middle and lowest classes. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Lebanon Is Experiencing A Social Revolution
Lina Khatib
AlJazeera, Oct. 20, 2019

Since October 17, Lebanese citizens from all walks of life have been taking to the streets in unprecedented protests that transcend not only sectarian lines but also class and regional ones. What unites the protesters are demands for the Lebanese cabinet, which was formed in January of this year, to resign. For the past 10 months, it has failed to save Lebanon from a worsening financial crisis predominantly caused by government mismanagement and corruption that predated its formation.

By the second day of demonstrations, protesters were beginning to characterise their actions as a revolution. While it is not yet known whether the protests will result in a political revolution, they already illustrate a remarkable social one.
In 2005, Lebanon witnessed the so-called Cedar Revolution, when people demonstrated in huge numbers against the Syrian military occupation of their country. But the protests then did not call for a change in the country’s political system, which remains dominated by the political leaders of Lebanon’s various sects.

The 2005 protests were driven by the political party of the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, father of the current prime minister, Saad Hariri, and its allies, who opposed the Syrian regime. That led to counter-protests orchestrated by pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its allies.

As such, political parties were the main mobilisers of the 2005 protesters. Although each of the rival political camps had followers from different sects, Hariri’s support base was primarily Sunni Muslim and that of Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah was predominantly Shia Muslim.

In 2015, as rubbish piled up on streets across the country, demonstrators headed to downtown Beirut to protest against the government’s mishandling of rubbish collection and processing. This time, they came from across the country’s sectarian divides and some protesters even started to question their own sects’ political leaders. But this questioning was limited to those in the anti-Hezbollah camp as most of the Shia community did not publicly critique Hezbollah.

Despite some demonstrators trying to escalate the demands of the 2015 protests, they did not lead to the fall of the government. In the run-up to those protests, rival political parties had been trying to discredit one another. But when faced with a threat to the political status quo, Lebanon’s political elite stuck together, using divide-and-rule tactics like circulating rumours that some of the civil society leaders of the protest movement were paid foreign agents, to cause the movement to disintegrate.

Still, the 2015 protests planted the seed of organised public action, which has since been slowly but steadily growing – first through contesting municipal elections, then by fielding candidates against the dominant traditional political parties in parliamentary elections, and since then in a quiet but ongoing programme of civic engagement by some of the groups that were born out of the protests, such as Beirut Madinati.

There are a few key ways in which these latest protests differ from those in 2005 and 2015. As in 2015, but unlike in 2005, they are part of a genuine grassroots movement that has not been directed by any political party. They are cross-sectarian in a broader sense than those of 2015. They are taking place across Lebanon, rather than only in Beirut. And they are demanding the fall of the government from the outset, while criticising political leaders from every sect. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Lebanon Protests Rock Hezbollah’s Grip on Power. That’s Cause for Hope — but Also Danger
Sulome Anderson
NBC News, Oct. 25, 2019

On Wednesday, I spoke with the leader of a Hezbollah tank battalion over the phone. It sounded particularly chaotic in Dahieh, a Hezbollah-controlled neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Other parts of the city have been racked by massive demonstrations sweeping Lebanon, and he kept pausing to answer another mobile phone.

I’ve known this Hezbollah fighter for more than six years, and I have never heard him express anything but loyalty to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shia militia, U.S.-designated terror group and political party that, along with allied parties, holds more than half of the Cabinet seats in the Lebanese government. So it came as quite a shock when he criticized Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who is revered by his followers, and expressed support for the anti-government protests.

Open expressions of frustration with Hezbollah during public protests — let alone support for such protests from Nasrallah’s dedicated foot soldiers — are exceedingly rare. “I support the protest movement because I am disgusted with life here,” the battalion leader told me, speaking on condition of anonymity because Hezbollah does not permit its members to be interviewed by Western media. He noted that while some Hezbollah followers have clashed with protesters as recently as Friday, others have actually joined in the demonstrations. “All of our ministers are corrupt,” he said. The Hezbollah leadership “is in a situation of chaos. They don’t know what to do right now.”

As someone of Lebanese descent, I am incredibly moved to see so many people unite in opposition to a government that has exploited the country for too long. Images of protesters dancing with abandon and displaying humorous signs railing against the political elite demonstrate a surge of Lebanese spirit I never imagined I would see in a population so ground down by conflict and political stagnation. Across Lebanon, immense crowds have been heard shouting crude chants against some of the country’s most prominent leaders since the demonstrations began a week ago.

While some of the coalition government’s leaders and parties have been frequent targets of demonstrations in this fractious country of divided religious sects, such as the Western- and Saudi-backed Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri, open expressions of frustration with Hezbollah during public protests — let alone support for such protests from Nasrallah’s dedicated foot soldiers — are exceedingly rare.

Hezbollah has weathered many storms in the 30 or so years it has been officially active, from an Israeli invasion in 2006 to the turmoil of the Syrian war next door, but never has it faced such strong domestic sentiment against it from across different sects. Whether Hezbollah chooses to quell the protests with force or sacrifice some of its political gains to appease demonstrators, one thing is certain: From a domestic standpoint, its leadership is facing the greatest existential crisis it has experienced in a long time. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Demonstrations in Lebanon are ‘A Moment of Truth for Hezbollah’
Marc Daou
France 24, Oct. 25, 2019

Since October 17, a people’s uprising has been targeting the Lebanese government and the political class, considered corrupt and incompetent. It has not waned since and continues to sweep across the entire country. This includes southern Lebanon and Bekaa, the most important Shia electoral strongholds of Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah and the Amal movement led by the Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon, Nabih Berri.

“It is a non-partisan socio-political movement that cuts across all social strata, regions and communities, united in the face of fears that the country will fall into the precipice because of the economic crisis,” Middle East political scientist Khattar Abou Diab told FRANCE 24. “All Lebanese are concerned, especially those living in the south of the country, which is predominantly Shia and where the most disadvantaged territories are located.”

In an inconceivable development just a few days ago, demonstrators attacked the offices of some Shia deputies, including Mohammad Raad, president of the Hezbollah parliamentary group, Hani Kobeissi and Yassine Jaber of the Amal party.

Anti-power demonstrators protest

“It is too early to draw any conclusions, as the demonstrations are still ongoing, but it has to be feared that Hezbollah will do everything it can to stop, drown out or take advantage of this popular movement,” Khattar Abu Diab continued. “There have already been several attempts to do so, and even today Hezbollah sent supporters to mingle with demonstrators in the heart of Beirut to create diversions.”

Hezbollah supporters again attempting to infiltrate protests in down town Beirut, attacking men, women and children. #Lebanon

On Thursday afternoon, Hezbollah supporters attacked demonstrators in central Beirut, forcing riot police to intervene to separate the two sides. Several injuries were reported during the clashes by local media.

At the start of the week, hundreds of people, flying Hezbollah and Amal flags and perched on motorcycles, tried to head towards central Beirut, where the anti-power demonstrators are based, before being stopped in time by the Lebanese army. Fifteen demonstrators were injured on October 23 in Nabatiyah in the south, in clashes with supporters of Hezbollah and its ally Amal.

Nabatiyah, a large Shia-majority city, has become the symbol of the uprising in the south of the country, even if the number of demonstrators is lower there than in other parts of the country. Speech is also more measured there than in the capital Beirut, where criticism is more frequent against Nasrallah. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

Report: Lebanon’s Hariri-led Government Expected to Resign:  Hana Levi Julian, Jewish Press, Oct. 26, 2019 — The Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri is expected to resign within the next 24 hours, according to a report broadcast on Saturday by the Al-Hadith television channel.

Lebanon’s Banks Brace for Dollar Run:  Hana Levi Julian, Jewish Press, Oct. 26, 2019 — The banks in Lebanon – closed for the seventh straight day on Friday – were bracing for a bank run as confidence in the local currency and the country’s financial system is fading.

The Great Debate: Is There a Brighter Future for Lebanon Around the Corner?:  Aya Iskandarani and Samia Badih, N Opinion, Oct 24, 2019 — Aya Iskandarani: What’s happening in Lebanon at the moment with the country-wide protests is amazing. I think it will be difficult, but I hope there is a brighter future ahead, because we’ve been waiting for too long for such an opportunity.

Why Lebanon’s People Are Turning on Their Politicians:  Jane Ferguson, New Yorker, July 12, 2019 — On a sunny afternoon in mid-June, several hundred students and lecturers from the Lebanese University, in Beirut, gathered in a square outside the Prime Minister’s office.