A most peaceful revolution

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When disgruntled Lebanese protesting societal dysfunction flooded the street on October 17, few had envisioned that an impassioned momentum would be garnered and sustained.

by Georgi Azar -Source: Annahar

A picture taken with a drone shows an aerial view as hundreds of thousands of protesters wave Lebanese flags during the biggest protest in years demanding an end to corruption and rule of the country’s political elite in downtown Beirut, Lebanon on October 17, 2019 (Ibrahim Nassar)

BEIRUT: Exactly one year ago, marking Lebanon’s 75th Independence Day, I wrote an op-ed lamenting the country’s abysmal reality, calling it a failed state; and for good reason.

Its economy was in shambles, its infrastructure was crumbling before our very eyes and the government formation crisis had entered its seventh month. That very government would be assembled two months later only to resign before the year’s end in the wake of the popular uprising that has gripped Lebanon for the better part of a month.

12 months after that opinion piece, not much has changed on those fronts. Yet in the midst of our many ailments, a renewed sense of hope has emerged fueled by a collective awakening.

A collective awakening that has broken religious and social constructs that had clutched Lebanon since the conclusion of its bloody civil war almost 30 years ago. A collective awakening that has shattered the unwritten and suppressive guidelines that had shielded our ruling political class. A collective awakening that has paved the way for Lebanese to rewrite the rulebook of a peaceful revolution and what it entails.

When disgruntled Lebanese protesting societal dysfunction flooded the streets on October 17, few had envisioned that an impassioned momentum would be garnered and sustained.

Many, young and old, including our decades-old political class, discounted the movement; and many still do. They accused demonstrators of inciting violence, before castigating their many displays of non-violence. They accused the older generation of spurring sectarian wounds, before scolding students in search of a better tomorrow. They even attempted to change the narrative, labeling the country’s financial crisis as a product of the revolution, instead of its root cause.

Yet the sense of community, fraternity, and camaraderie that has developed is palpable to the staunchest of cynics. Beirut and its public spaces have become a beaming hub of honest discussions and debates. Finally, the public sphere, defined as a space in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems to be tackled through political action, has been returned to its rightful owners.

Cleaning efforts, initiated by hundreds of volunteers, have put the cumulative performances of all our previous environment ministers to shame. From recycling tents in Martyr’s Square to the poor being fed and clothed, finally, the stereotype of Lebanese passiveness is being ruptured.

Over 30 days since that first rally in downtown Beirut and officials across the political spectrum continue to collude, connive and conspire as evidenced by the establishment’s concerted opposition to the independent candidate Melhem Khalaf in the race to head the Beirut Bar Association. Khalaf, a law professor at Saint Joseph University, emerged victorious this week in what many hope to be the first of many triumphs.

Over 30 days since that first rally in downtown Beirut and officials continue in their shady dealings, attempting to pass dubious legislation that possibly pardons previous financial crimes; only to be stopped by thousands of courageous men and women who blocked roads in central Beirut preventing lawmakers from reaching the parliament.

In what could only be described as a show of unity nourished by a collective awakening, men and women from all walks of life gathered in the early hours of Tuesday morning to block the seven different roads leading to parliament. They faced riot police, with women protesters forming a live barrier between the two sides, as well as live ammunition after an MP’s convoy fired shots in the air to keep protesters at bay.

A woman desperately hangs on to a young man who is being dragged away by riot police as they attempt to clear protestors blocking a road leading to parliament on Tuesday, November 19, 2019 (Myriam Boulos)

Men, women, and children have all been catalysts for change, putting aside differences that had long divided them. Women, as Dr. Jack Tohme noted, have moved passed their supportive roles, taking a leading constructive role of development and dignity for a better future for the children.

As Lebanon nears its 76th Independence Day, a united demand for the end of the status-quo has reignited a sense of unfettered patriotism, long lost to sectarian politics that had placed leaders before country.

One year later, one can’t help but revel at the progress, all the while gazing ahead at the future we’ve all been longing for.

 

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