Lebanon News

Dwindling numbers no cause for concern among protesters

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Beirut, Dec. 15, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: As Lebanon’s unprecedented nationwide protests approach their three month anniversary, lower protester turnout is raising questions over the uprising’s future and longevity. Images of squares across the country that were once filled with hundreds of thousands of protesters have not been seen since the first month of the anti-government uprising, which erupted on Oct. 17, calling for the overhaul of an entire political system.

An increasing number of partisan demonstrations have taken place as well.

But activists say that just because numbers appear to be dwindling does not mean the revolution is over.

“It’s taking on a new shape ... not a lot of people are organizing protests now, it’s smaller and more spontaneous action,” says Nizar Hasan, an activist from the direct-action group known as LiHaqqi which translates to ‘My Right.’

Direct action groups like LiHaqqi, whose role is to provide assistance with demonstrations, have been instrumental in the mobilization and organization of protests.

Hani Adada, coordinator of LiHaqqi told the Daily Star that protests are much more decentralized than when the uprising first started and much more spontaneous in nature.

There are no official numbers for protest groups in Lebanon, but Adada estimated there are thousands in the country and hundreds in Beirut.

Adada says he is not worried about the future of the uprising and the seemingly lower numbers in protester turnout. “On a micro level there’s organization ... The quantity is not important, but the persistence is,” Adada says.

For the most part, the protests have operated at a grass-roots level. With no clear leadership, they have been fueled by mounting anger at a corrupt ruling class and frustration at sharply declining standards of living.

In the last month, Lebanon has seen much more sporadic and spontaneous protests. They have taken place in front of the banks, state institutions, privatized coastal areas, embassies and universities.

Adada says this is because the country’s social and economic situation is rapidly deteriorating and protesters’ demands will evolve and become more reactionary as a result.

For example, Thursday morning saw protesters stage sit-ins at Electricite du Liban offices in various cities across the country, including Tripoli and Sidon, due to progressively worsening power cuts. Areas in Tripoli only received four hours of electricity in 28 hours, while some areas in Beirut received less than an hour of state-provided electricity.

“There is organization but in many different areas. When you see the bigger picture it’s not actually decreasing,” Adada says.

Karim Safieddine, a member of youth network and activist group Mada Network, says youth and students are cautiously optimistic about the future of the uprising.

Students have been a critical force in the protests. A large portion of protesters in Beirut are aged between 18 and 25, and most of believe their future in the country is dependent on the uprising’s success.

“Students are exhausted. They’ve been protesting for a long time,” Safieddine says.

But he remains hopeful because of a “new generation of students that did not exist before that are politically engaged.”

Safieddine notes that the future of the protests is uncertain, but that there is talk among students wanting to shift the focus of the protests back to targetting the government rather than banks and state institutions.

“Right now we’re not all on the same page, and there’s a sense of wanting to tackle these issues on both a political level and a class level,” Safieddine says.

Adada contends one of the main challenges that will likely face protests moving forward is the difference between groups in how they see the future.

“Because the country is being destroyed on all levels there are millions of demands, so it’s hard for there to be a unified plan,” the LiHaqqi coordinator explains.

Adada anticipates that the protests will continue to be more spontaneous and aggressive as the situation worsens and citizen’s needs continue not being met.

“I can’t predict anything, but the protests have been developing on their own,” he says.

“I don’t think they are going anywhere,” he added.

This weekend will provide an opportunity for protesters to make a statement as protests are scheduled across the country on Saturday and Sunday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 11, 2020, on page 2.

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