BEIRUT: The Lebanese capital, Beirut, witnessed angry protests in response to the general situation in the country and amid a further delay in the formation of a new Cabinet.
About 3,000 demonstrators responded to a call on social media and gathered in Martyrs’ Square, carrying banners bearing their grievances and criticizing the country’s leaders. They chanted slogans demanding social freedom and calling for the overthrow of the regime.
An Internal Security Forces (ISF) officer told Arab News: “Security Forces knew about the protest through social media and took all the necessary measures,” he added, noting that “none of the demonstrators had permission to demonstrate from the Ministry of Interior.”
The protesters had various objectives. Some wore yellow vests, some hid their faces, and others even brought their children or dogs along. Many of them had their own tale of personal suffering.
“I am unemployed, I do not have any kind of health insurance and taxes are imposed on everything,” said Hassan Khamis, 20 years old. “I came here so that my voice can be heard. I am from the southern suburbs of Beirut, but I do not follow any of its political parties.”
Cinderella Abou Chakra, who wore a yellow vest to demonstrate against corruption, said that she did so not to imitate French protesters, but to show that they too suffer from high taxes and low salaries.
“I am a retired employee and my husband was fired from his job because his employers could not afford to pay him the minimum wage anymore. I am part of the civil society and I hope that this non-sectarian protest will bring change and accountability.”
Activists from the political party Sabaa also took part in the demonstrations.
“They are bringing back the same faces to the government in a different format, while each of them is taking their share of the benefits,” said Ali Hassan, a Lebanese army veteran.
“The solution lies in the formation of a technocratic government not related to any of the political parties. It should be considered a national rescue government and not a national unity government.”
A member of a group of masked young men told Arab News that they were from the southern city of Tyre.
They had come together through a Whatsapp group chat to stand against corruption and to express their frustration with the politicians.
“They are not smarter than us. We are aware of what they are doing. They want to treat us like herds of sheep of different colors,” he said.
Participants raised the Lebanese flag and sang the national anthem. Some also held the flag of the Nejmeh football club to reaffirm that “they are participating as civilians and are not affiliated with any political party.”
Protesters then moved from Martyrs’ Square to the nearby Riad Al-Solh Square, close to the Lebanese Parliament and the Grand Serail, the seat of the government.
They held banners that read “We want a government now” and “Approve the law to recover stolen funds.”
Among the protesters were three Muslim clerics who are social media activists representing the Sunnis and the Shiites.
“We are participating to say that the situation has become unbearable. Hunger and economic crises are looming. Politicians must recognize the extent of people’s dissatisfaction,” said Sheikh Mohammed Ali Al-Hajj Al-Alami.
Sheikh Waleed Alama noted that: “Some people in Lebanon sold their minds to the political parties. We are here today to make heard the voices of those holding on to coexistence.”
Malak, a 39-year-old social media influencer, said: “I have been unemployed for three years. I am one of the people who called for the protests because the situation can no longer be tolerated. What the politicians are doing is very provocative. Our government does not care about us, it does not listen to the suffering of its people.”
The demonstrators tried to approach the metal barriers set in front of the government’s headquarters, while some threw water bottles at the security forces.
Later, they divided into smaller groups and closed some roads in Beirut such as Hamra Street, one of the major thoroughfares in the city, setting garbage bins on fire.
The Lebanese Army moved in to reopen the roads, and asked the protesters not to damage public and private properties and to preserve the peaceful nature of the demonstrations.