Lebanon News

Lebanese return to Martyrs’ Square to protest collapsing economy

BEIRUT: Over a hundred protesters took to the streets of Downtown Beirut Tuesday as Parliament convened for a session for the first time in over a month amid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Convoys of cars lined up bumper to bumper in Beirut's Martyrs’ Square – the epicenter of the countrywide protests that broke out on Oct. 17 – and headed to the UNESCO Palace, where a Parliament session is currently underway.

Lebanese stood on the hoods of their cars and hung out of vehicles waving large Lebanese flags, chanting “Thawra, thawra,” meaning “Revolution, revolution,” in protest of the deteriorating economy and living standards in the country.

“We can’t handle this economic situation anymore, and the authorities are doing nothing to help the people,” Nur, a 30-years-old protester, told The Daily Star.

Nur recently lost her job because the company she worked for shut down due to financial pressures.

She says she has so far been unable to find another job.

“The people aren’t going to stay quiet. They will demand their basic rights in order to live with dignity. We are still here,” she says.

Renewed demonstrations come against the backdrop of Lebanon’s flagging economic situation, already on the brink of collapse for months and exacerbated by coronavirus lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the disease. The Lebanese pound has lost more than half of its value as banks continue to impose stricter informal capital control.

Activists for over a week have called on protesters to gather in the square, but also to remain in their cars in an attempt to adhere to the social distancing measures. Most remained in their cars but dozens of protesters gathered and embraced, chanting songs of the revolution while security forces stood by. Keeping in the spirit of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, vendors walked around the square selling safety masks instead of Lebanese flags to protesters.

Bassam Siblini, 55, lost his job in telecommunications despite his 30 years of experience in the sector. He, like Nur, can’t find work.

“My money is going to run out and then what will I do?” Siblini says. “People are starving. The revolution is returning and has returned.”

Currently, there is no official social safety net for families who have been disproportionately affected by lockdown measures. Almost a month ago the government announced that these families would receive a one-off cash donation of LL400,000, which will be coming from a fund of LL72 billion that Cabinet allotted for the Higher Relief Commission. This amount, which comes to a meager $125 on the secondary market, has yet to be distributed.

 

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