Lebanon: the Revolution Continues
Clara Akiki explores protests past and present: in the wake of catastrophe, the Lebanese continue to demand change
The Lebanese Revolution first sparked in October 2019. Today, in the aftermath of a devastating explosion that destroyed Beirut last Tuesday, the Lebanese persist in their fight against the ruling elite and corruption that holds the country hostage.
Last October, thousands of Lebanese took to the streets in protest against an economic crisis, corrupt elite and debilitated government. The thowra, or ‘revolution’, gripped the nation for months. In Exeter, a small gathering of student protesters joined the movement. Mirroring scenes in the homeland, we played music, called for the fall of the regime and shared our hopes for the future of the country.
Many of us vested much passion in the October Revolution. Cries for radical change accompanied voices demanding the eradication of the insufferable greed and sectarianism that holds the country hostage. Not insignificantly, a profound sense of national unity defined the movement. This instilled hope and represented strength in our solidarity.
Eight months later, we watched from behind screens images of the harrowing mushroom cloud that engulfed Beirut two weeks ago. We mourn the dead, pray for the wounded and sit dumbfounded at the sight of the gaping hole in the city’s port left by the 2,750 tonnes of exploded ammonium nitrate.
Beirut is in ruins. The impact swamped a radius of 25km. Over 170 are confirmed dead, 6,000 are injured and 300,000 are homeless. Images of the aftermath reveal apocalyptic scenes, colossal destruction, despair and devastation.
In the wake of catastrophe, the Lebanese returned to the streets. Firstly, to sweep the rubble, rescue the wounded and provide for those in need. As restoration efforts persisted, so did the outcry of the public. This time, in circumstances drastically contrasting those of 2019. On Saturday 9th August 2020, thousands gathered in Martyr’s Square to, once again, demand the ousting of incompetent and criminal ruling elite. There was no dancing, no rallying chants and no colourful signs raised in bright retaliation. Intensified by the tragedy, shock, grief and burning anger mobilised the crowds. The scenes were tense and filled with emotion. A total of 728 were wounded through excessive use of force, rubber bullets and teargas.
Protesters assembled at scenes already destroyed; exhausted and desponded. Voices were not emboldened by a backdrop of dance and cheerful drums, but by the desolate skeleton of a city ravaged by incomprehensible negligence.
Certain slogans claimed killing the elite is not a crime, but an act of self-defence.
Chants did not resonate with the satirically rhythmic ‘hela hela ho’, but with piercing anger and confusion at the absurdity of the desolation. Certain slogans claimed killing the elite is not a crime, but an act of self-defence. Others called for help to escape a country that holds them prisoner. In Martyr’s Square, so named after those executed under Ottoman rule, nooses were hung, symbolising the desire for the death of the ruling elite.
There are still many things we don’t know about the explosion. President Michel Aoun as well as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah continue to assert their exemption from responsibility.
Politics in Lebanon runs like a mafia.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his government announced their resignation, but this is not the end. Politics in Lebanon runs like a mafia. This is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that out of the pool of candidates proposed to replace the outgoing Prime Minister is none other than Saad Hariri – the very same PM who resigned just months ago after the October movement. Once again, the Lebanese suffocate in an insufferable and devastating cycle from which they continue to demand release.
Lebanon mourns the failure of an internally bust politics that stifles the country and its people, not the October Revolution and its message. In the ongoing rallies, anti-government sentiment is rife, channelled through the emblematic slogan of the 2019 Revolution that continues to be heard: kelloun yani kelloun, ‘everyone means everyone’, they all must go. The will of people will not change until the problem does.
Kelloun Yani Kelloun
But the government still plays
Their game of musical chairs
Kelloun Yani Kelloun
Yet we’re the only ones dying
- Sira Charbel, Student at the University of Exeter
How to help:
If you are wondering how you can help support all those afflicted by the criminal explosion, the first thing you can do is remember it. Although this topic is slowly filtering out of conversation in the (Western) media, this does not mean the crisis is over. The blast that lasted a few seconds will have repercussions for years. Efforts to restore homes lost, a city destroyed and hope for a peaceful future will take a long time. Have a look at the Al-Jazeera edit : https://www.aljazeera.com/topics/events/beirut-explosion.html
Secondly, another thing you can do is donate. Before the blast, Lebanon was living through an economic crisis. The currency devaluated 80%, meaning prices for basic goods soared. IN addition, the struggle for survival was compounded by the coronavirus crisis. The middle class is disappearing and the poor are destitute. The government will not help, all the following links are independent and apolitical.
Rosary Sisters Hospital
This is a cause particularly close to my heart. My aunt’s hospital, just a few kilometres from the port in the Gemayze area of Beirut, was destroyed and left out of function after the explosion. A nurse was martyred and many staff badly injured. The hospital is in need of funds to rebuild and restore the hospital to continue its mission of healing and caring for all in need.
This is a short video of the hospital in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, recounting the event.
The Red Cross
The Lebanese Red Cross, a Non-Governmental Organisation provides medical aid, ambulance services and shelter.
Impact Lebanon is a non-profit organisation that was created to provide a way for the Lebanese diaspora to support the community. They have created a Just Giving crowdfunding page to assemble funds to donate to a variety of NGOs supporting those affected by the explosion.
Children Cancer Center
Another hospital in Lebanon that was severely damaged by the blast.
Lebanese Food bank
Providing food aid to those in need.
By Clara Akiki