Photo: Lebanese protesters lead a sit-in while riot police watch
By Miriam Cordova
Protests throughout Lebanon, especially in major cities like Beirut and Tripoli, have entered the fourth week, and have seen the participation of tens of thousands of people. After Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation last Tuesday, protesters are now targeting the country’s remaining political elite, specifically President Michel Aoun, with calls to step down from office.
The protests were sparked by a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls, but have now transformed into a general call for a new government. The tax was quickly repealed, but protesters raised other issues such as widespread corruption in the government, high unemployment, an unreliable water supply, frequent power outages, and the country’s massive debt of $86 billion (150% of its GDP).
The protests, the biggest seen in a decade, have included roadblocks, occupations of government buildings, as well as the closure of banks, schools, and businesses throughout the country. They have been characterized as a leaderless and non-sectarian movement. While there have been some clashes with riot police, the protests differ from those in Latin America by utilizing generally non-violent methods, like sit-ins.
With al-Hariri out of office and Aoun in their sights, many protesters are calling for a complete overhaul of the current political system and an end to the sectarian model government altogether.
Ending the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990, the Taif Agreement created a coalition government, decreeing that the presidency is reserved for a Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni, and the Parliament Speaker a Shia. Al-Hariri is Western-backed, and leans towards the interests of Saudi Arabia, while the Shia section of the government is closer tied to the interests of Iran.
Aoun has attempted to position himself as a champion of the protesters, calling for a technocratic cabinet to replace the currently existing system and institute economic reforms.
Last Sunday, a group of demonstrators rallied outside the presidential palace in support of Aoun, however just hours later tens of thousands of anti-government protesters hit the streets demanding his resignation and chanting, “All of them means all of them!”
Shia political party Hezbollah finds itself in a precarious position, they were opposed to al-Hariri’s decision to resign with leader Hassan Nasrallah initially criticizing the protests, saying that foreign powers would exploit them to undermine the party. There have also been reports of Hezbollah and fellow Shia party Amal destroying protesters’ tents and assaulting demonstrators.
This strategy has shifted recently as the protests show no signs of stopping, Nasrallah commented, “A new government must be formed as soon as possible… and the new government must listen to the demands of the people who took to the streets.”
As the protests continue, the economic crisis of bureaucratic capitalism continues to deepen in the country with some worried that the government may collapse unless something is done soon. The remaining political elite, represented by Aoun and Hezbollah, are trying to do everything in their power to maintain the current order while making reforms to appease the protesters and stave off further destabilization.
The masses of Lebanon are right to rebel against their government and the system of sectarianism that keeps a handful of elite families in control of the country. However, the lack of proletarian leadership, or any leadership at all, leaves the movement open to influence from opportunists.
Calls for a technocratic cabinet based off “expertise” without regard for political line also opens the country up to even stronger lackeys of imperialism, who often tout their bourgeois credentials to push for harsh austerity measures and further foreign investment from imperialists, principally from the US.
Only through proletarian leadership from a genuine Communist Party can the people of Lebanon be free from the national elite as well as the international imperialists who wish to dominate them.