LEBANON Protests Shake the Communitarian Institutions

Massive demonstrations have just caused Prime Minister Saad Hariri (of triple nationality — Lebanese, Saudi and French) to resign. The president has called for the formation of a “government of experts”.

For nearly three weeks now, the Lebanese people have been demonstrating en masse. They are demanding radical change, the ouster of “all the political class”, which are judged to be incompetent and idle, and the departure of the government. In a country where the Constitution is based on specific rights attributed to each “community”, where these communities are represented in the institutions according to a carefully crafted mix (the Sunnites get the position of Prime Minister, the Christians get the presidency, etc.), the calling into question of this communal construction is a revolution. 

We are one single people”, the demonstrators chant, addressing the activists of Hezbollah [one of the parties in the coalition government – editor’s note] who have been looking for a fight with them, after their leader took a stand against the mass movement. The uniqueness of this movement lies in its rejection of all the existing parties. They are designated as being responsible for the fact that there has been no change in the conditions of the most impoverished sectors of the population for the past twenty-five years. 

In recent years, there have been many protest movements. The present explosion is not surprising. What is new is seeing Lebanese people of all different religions side-by-side to denounce corruption, in particular. They wish to decide for themselves. In Lebanon, as in all the countries where the issue of popular sovereignty has not been settled, the demand has been raised for a Sovereign Constituent Assembly, through which the unity of the nation can be forged. 

The trade unions, in particular the FENASOL (National Federation of Commerce Workers and Employees) and the student unions, which participate actively in the demonstrations and occupation of the streets, can play a major role in the expansion of the movement. The FENASOL has maintained its demand for general strike, despite the repression and intimidation. They could open the way to the fight for a Sovereign Constituent Assembly which is, under the circumstances, the demand that corresponds to the profound aspiration of the Lebanese people to decide for themselves. 

An observer from the newspaper L’Orient /LeJour recently exclaimed: “The demonstrators want a revolution!” The same day the article was published, the demonstrators answered him using the popular Arabic expression “From your mouth, to God”. In a country where, behind a religious cover, this type of popular expression can have a democratic and social content, this meant: “Yes, it is indeed a revolution.”  

Correspondence from Lebanon, published on 31 October 2019 in Minbar El Oummel (Workers Tribune, Algeria)