Lebanese unite in protest against their political elite

Protesters rally in Beirut on the fourth day of demonstrations against Lebanon’s government amid calls for a sweeping political overhaul. (AFP )
Updated 03 November 2019

Lebanese unite in protest against their political elite

  • Lebanon has not witnessed such scenes of public solidarity since the 1975 civil war
  • Ordinary people are at the end of their tether as the economic situation worsens

DUBAI: Al-Thawra. From Tripoli and Jounieh in the north to Saida and Tyre in the south, and all the way to the capital Beirut, that single most powerful word — “revolution” in Arabic — has been echoing through the streets of Lebanon in recent days. 

Millions of Lebanese from across the religious and sectarian spectrum have united under one flag to express their frustration and dismay with a government that they believe has betrayed them once too often. 

Not since well before the 1975 civil war has Lebanon witnessed such obvious unity among its people. 

Although many in the media were quick to point the finger at the government’s planned $0.20 daily fee on WhatsApp voice calls — an idea that was swiftly scrapped — ordinary Lebanese are adamant that the reasons for the demonstrations in the past week go much deeper. 

“The protests are definitely not because of the WhatsApp tax,” said Farid Hobeiche, who took part in the protests in Keserwan. 

“It’s because of hundreds and hundreds of reasons. The tax was the last straw because the government has been playing with us and has invented so many lies to take poor people’s money, while not coming up with solutions to fight corruption.” 

HIGHLIGHTS

15% - Roads in Lebanon in good condition

4th - Worst in quality of electricity after Haiti, Nigeria and Yemen

113 - Lebanon’s ranking out of 137 countries in terms of infrastructure

26 - Jump in perceived corruption ranking since 2012 to 146 out of 180 countries

1997 - Last time Lebanon’s public-school curriculum was updated

The tax came on the back of irreparable damage caused by fires that ravaged forests in Meshref and Chouf last week when the Lebanese government was unable to press its firefighting helicopters into action. 

It transpired that the helicopters — three Sikorsky S-70s donated to the government in 2009 — were out of service. The government had failed to allocate the $450,000 annual funding needed for their maintenance. 

For most Lebanese, however, the devastating forest fires are emblematic of a dysfunctional state that levies heavy taxes on its people, but fails to provide them with any services. 
From an unreliable electricity system to one of the poorest infrastructures in the world and a government considered beyond corrupt, there is a sense that the people of Lebanon are at the end of their tether. 

Nasser Saidi, a former finance minister and vice governor of the country’s central bank, believes that the unrest is the result of a combination of factors: Poor governance; a rapid decline in health, education and environmental standards; and deteriorating economic conditions and prospects for the future. 

“Lebanon has a high misery index of 36 percent, as measured by the sum of the unemployment rate (30 percent) and inflation (6 percent), similar to that of countries such as Nigeria, Bosnia and Iran,” he told Arab News. 

“It is estimated that half of the labor force is in the informal sector without access to social insurance, and there is a high degree of inequality in the distribution of wealth and income — 1 percent of depositors own more than 50 percent of the value of deposits.” 




Lebanese demonstrators gather during a mass protest in the centre of the capital Beirut on October 18, 2019 against dire economic conditions. (AFP)

The overall economic picture is also alarming. Public debt has ballooned to $85 billion, making Lebanon one of the world’s most indebted countries, and the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high. 

At the same time, quality of life has taken a nosedive as air, water and soil pollution levels rise. Most Lebanese have little doubt that there is a direct link between the pervasive pollution and the many life-threatening illness, including cancer, to which they are falling prey. 

Meanwhile, politicians bicker over who should receive the biggest share of Lebanon’s potential oil and gas bonanza. 

This untenable situation has galvanized Lebanese residents and expatriates, uniting them for a single cause, which they are calling the “end of the civil war.” 

For Mona Paoli, a mother of two, the protests have struck a deeply personal chord. 

“At the end of each holiday, I have to kiss my children goodbye and watch them leave Lebanon for other countries because here we are simply ‘not allowed’ to live,” she told Arab News. 

“We raise our children and export them because in our country unemployment rates are at their highest. If, by chance, a youngster finds a job, it is for a pathetic salary that is not enough to sustain him for more than two weeks.” 

Paoli added: “Our civil war ended almost 30 years ago, yet we still have no electricity, running water, medical care for all, no access to schools and universities without having to pull strings. Our most basic rights are trampled on. A hungry population is a population that ends up revolting.” 
From students to professors, pharmacists to doctors, employees to pensioners, Lebanese share the same feelings of fatigue and injustice. 




 Activist Oleksandra Al-Zahran provides live online updates ‘to show people are protesting peacefully.’ (Supplied photo)

“They have been incredibly organized,” Paoli said. “Every morning at 6 a.m. volunteers pick up, clean and sort garbage. It’s a beautiful solidarity and this is our Lebanon.” 

Hobeiche said that continuing demonstrations can have only two outcomes — either the government collapses or it adopts sweeping measures to tackle the serious problems that have been accumulating over several decades. 

“No one ever takes responsibility,” he said. “We need to see change, not just people talking.” 

A few months ago, the Lebanese government asked US management consultants McKinsey & Co. for recommendations on ending the country’s spiralling economic problems. But it is believed that no action has been taken on the firm’s report. 

“I am trying to help, with the help of my social media platform because the news media is not covering everything,” Hobeiche said. 

“A lot of the ugly things that are happening, such as violence and the burning of tires, are getting media attention. I am trying to show how people are protesting peacefully.” 

Hobeiche’s views were echoed by Oleksandra Al-Zahran, a 24-year-old civil society activist, who said that the only flag to be seen at the protests is the Lebanese triband, a rare event in a country where party loyalties run deep. 

“People are out on the streets and they are not planning on going anywhere,” she said. 

Al-Zahran posts live updates on her Instagram page to offer what she believes is an account of the true situation, as opposed to Lebanese media portrayals. 

“They keep on emphasizing that the whole issue started because of the WhatsApp tax, which is not true,” she said. “People are done with the corrupt government and sectarianism, and they want change. 

“There are no jobs. For those who have one, the monthly income, about $800, is not something on which you can live. We want all the politicians to resign.” 

Former minister Saidi said that there is a clear consensus that Lebanon needs a regime change, with a new beginning that establishes the rule of law, combats corruption and addresses the country’s many divides. 

“It is time for a new government with extraordinary powers, composed of non-partisan technocrats, able to implement a financial plan to address Lebanon’s high level of debt, among other things,” he said. 

“New elections should bring forth fresh blood and a new vision for the country. Clearly, this will be an uphill battle and there will be opposition from the varied forces of the establishment. But the future of Lebanon and our young is at stake.” 


Egypt holds full-honors military funeral for Hosni Mubarak

Updated 26 February 2020

Egypt holds full-honors military funeral for Hosni Mubarak

  • The Republican Guard carried Mubarak’s casket wrapped in the Egyptian flag
  • To the outside world, Mubarak the strongman symbolized so much of Egypt’s modern history

CAIRO: Egypt was holding a full-honors military funeral Wednesday for the country’s former autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, who was for decades the face of stability in the Middle East but who was ousted from power in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that swept much of the region.
A few dozen Mubarak supporters, clad in black and carrying posters of the former president, had gathered since morning hours at a mosque complex in an eastern New Cairo neighborhood, where Mubarak’s body was brought for the funeral service.
The Republican Guard carried Mubarak’s casket wrapped in the Egyptian flag.
The 91-year-old Mubarak died on Tuesday at a Cairo military hospital from heart and kidney complications, according to medical documents obtained by The Associated Press. He was admitted to hospital on Jan. 21 with intestinal obstruction and underwent surgery, after which he was treated in intensive care.
To the outside world, Mubarak the strongman symbolized so much of Egypt’s modern history but his rule of nearly 30 years ended after hundreds of thousands of young Egyptians rallied for 18 days of unprecedented street protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere in 2011, forcing him to step down.

Perhaps ironically, Mubarak’s funeral service was held at the Tantawi Mosque in eastern Cairo, named for now retired Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who headed the military council that ran Egypt following Mubarak’s ouster and until the election of Islamist President Muhammed Morsi in 2012.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi attended the service, which was to be followed later in the day by burial at the cemetery in Heliopolis, an upscale Cairo district that was Mubarak’s home for most of his rule and where he lived until his death.
On Tuesday, El-Sisi extended condolences to the former president’s family, including his widow Suzanne and two sons, wealthy businessman Alaa and Mubarak’s one-time heir apparent Gamal.
In a statement, El-Sisi praised Mubarak’s service during the 1973 war with Israel but made no mention of his rule as president of the most populous Arab state. Three days of national mourning were to begin Wednesday, El-Sisi announced.
Pro-government media paid tribute to Mubarak, focusing on his role in the 1973 war with Israel when Mubarak, a pilot by training, commanded Egypt’s air force.
“Through his military and political career, Mubarak made undeniable achievements and sacrifices,” the state-run Al-Aharm newspaper eulogized Mubarak in its editorial Wednesday.
Born in May 1928, Mubarak was vice president on Oct. 6, 1981, when his mentor, President Anwar Sadat, was assassinated by Islamic extremists while reviewing a military parade. Seated next to Sadat, Mubarak escaped with a minor hand injury as gunmen sprayed the reviewing stand with bullets. Eight days later, the brawny former air force commander was sworn in as president, promising continuity and order.
Mubarak’s rule was marked by a close alliance with the US in the fight against Islamic militancy and assisting regional peace efforts. Many older Egyptians, who had long considered him invincible, were stunned by the images of Mubarak on a gurney bed being taken to court for sessions of his trial in Cairo following his ouster.
Mubarak’s overthrow plunged Egypt into years of chaos and uncertainty, and set up a power struggle between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood group that he had long outlawed. Some two and a half years after Mubarak’s ouster, El-Sisi led the military overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mursi, and rolled back freedoms gained in the 2011 uprising.
In June 2012, Mubarak and his security chief were sentenced to life in prison for failing to prevent the killing of some 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising. Both appealed the verdict and a higher court later cleared them in 2014.
The following year, Mubarak and his sons were sentenced to three years in prison on corruption charges during a retrial. The sons were released in 2015 for time served, while Mubarak walked free in 2017.

 

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