Politics, Middle East

Lebanese overcome sectarian divide, unite for protests

Lebanese protesters get over past of civil war with ambition for radical reform

Mahmoud Barakat and Raya Shartouni   | 20.11.2019
Lebanese overcome sectarian divide, unite for protests

ANKARA/BEIRUT

Popular protests in Lebanon have entered their second month, tearing apart the shadow of fear in the Arab nation.

For long years, sectarianism has shaped Lebanon, but recent protests against economic woes have brought Lebanese from different sectarian and political divides together.

"The most valuable gain Lebanon has made from the protests is the unity of the people against their sectarian and political divides," political analyst Moufid Mostafa told Anadolu Agency.

The unity of the people is unprecedented "in a way that never happened in the history of the country", Mostafa said.

Mass protests erupted in Lebanon on Oct. 17 against government plans to tax calls on Whatsapp and other messaging services with the demonstrations quickly turning into wider grievances.

The unrest has forced Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign, amid the country's worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Despite the government's resignation, the public anger has continued, amid calls for the departure of the political elite, whom protesters accuse of corruption and incompetence.

Protesters also call for the formation of a technocrat government, early parliamentary election, repatriation of illicit funds and ending corruption.

Lebanon was devastated by a bloody 15-year-long civil war which began on April 13, 1975 and is being marked every year.

Under the 1989 Taif Accord, which ended the country's civil war, cabinet portfolios are shared between the country’s main ethno-religious groupings, with six portfolios reserved for Sunnis, six for Shias and three for Druze.

Mostafa believes that the new generation in Lebanon is determined to have a better future, regardless of the divisions of the past.

"The people have dropped their parties' flags, raising the Lebanese flag and chanting 'All of them [regime-affiliates] must go home'," he said.

Achievements

Although the protesters' demand for a substantial reform has not yet been achieved, the resignation of Hariri's government has signaled a major step.

"The main parties are still unable to form a new government because the people want it from outside the governing sectarian parties," Mostafa said.

Protesters are piling pressure on Lebanese President Michel Aoun to start parliamentary consultations for forming a government of technocrats to deal with the economic crisis in the country.

News that Former Finance Minister Mohammed al-Safadi might be assigned with forming a new government has been met with disapproval from protesters.

Al-Safadi was nominated to be the new prime minister during a meeting between Hariri and Shia groups Hezbollah and Amal movement.

Last week, al-Safadi asked to withdraw his name from the candidates to form a government saying "it is hard to form a homogeneous government backed by all political parties."

Mostafa said another significant achievement from the protests is that local media now discusses corruption "not only by previous politicians but also corruption in the judiciary".

He said awareness of the Lebanese public has prompted them to "demand the formation of a secular government instead of sectarian one."

He said the people's awareness was manifested on Sunday when independent lawyer Melhem Khalaf, "who is backed by the protest movement against the parties was elected as head of the Beirut Bar Association."

Radical change

According to Asaad Bishara, a writer and political analyst, "Oct.17 was a date for a radical change without planning or administration by any of the current political forces."

He described the protests as "a popular uprising that holds national goals to rebuild the country and restore it from those who led it to failure and corruption".

"The popular class that was born [in the protests] is very important for the construction of Lebanon," Bishara said.

The uprising "carries the spirit of young people who do not belong to the generation of war, and want to turn the page of war and its effects," he said. "The military war in Lebanon ended in 1990, but the cold war between the Lebanese continued until Oct. 17."

According to Bishara, overthrowing the Lebanese government was a "huge achievement".

"This government was not just a parliamentary majority government, but it was a government of the political elite and protected by illegal weapons," he said.

"It was a government of leaders of the sects," he said, adding that the government was formed based on power-sharing among sectarian leaders.

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