Lebanon News

Mixed reactions among protesters after bank attacks

Photographers take pictures of a smashed bank vitrine in Hamra, Jan. 15, 2020. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Lebanese protesters were divided Wednesday after the violent clashes between a number demonstrators and security forces in Hamra the night before. Standing amid debris and glass strewn on the streets, dozens of people watched as smashed bank windows in Hamra were boarded up Wednesday morning. After a month of rain, Tuesday’s protests saw the highest turnout in weeks. Following an extended stand-off in front of the headquarters of the Central Bank, protesters came into conflict with security forces that resulted in at least seven wounded.

Several people attempted to storm the Central Bank building, breaking through the outer fence and calling for “the fall of the rule of the bank” and the resignation of Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. For weeks, banks have imposed capital controls with some limiting withdrawals to less than $200 a week.

Riot police advanced on the protesters in tight formation, as rocks, fireworks, and plastic water bottles rained down, before deploying several canisters of tear gas. After the area became shrouded in tear gas, protesters were pushed into the surrounding Hamra area where havoc ensued: protesters formed burning barricades with tyres and trash cans and destroyed ATMs and bank fronts. Following the clashes the ISF announced that they had arrested 59 people.

“What happened yesterday was a response from people who are hungry, whose money is being stolen, and economic policies that have directly led us to this crisis for years now,” said Ayman, a 27-year old, who watched as people cleaned the debris on Hamra from the night before.

Others, such as 30-year old Joe, say they are “neither for nor against what happened last night” but can understand why some protesters felt compelled to resort to violence. “There is no other solution for people. There is nothing else to do other than to resort to these measures.”

Some explained the heightened violence witnessed yesterday was a result of an increased participation by individuals affiliated with Amal and Hezbollah.

Previously, some Amal and Hezbollah supporters had opposed the demonstrations due to the anti-secular chants that contained curses against Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah that are now used less frequently.

“Hunger includes everyone. It doesn’t differentiate between parties or sects. Just because there were people from different sects doesn’t mean that the protests in Hamra were sectarian or politically driven,” Ayman added.

Similarly, Joseph, a freelancer in his mid-20s who was protesting outside of Helou police barracks for the release of 59 people who had been detained the night before, argued that a sectarian explanation of Tuesday’s events was “reductive.”

“People have been protesting inside banks almost every single day and they were attacked by officers in banks also but this has just not received coverage. Confining what happened yesterday [Tuesday] by saying it was hijacked by Amal or Hezbollah is not reflective of what is actually happening on the ground,” Joseph said.

“Anyone who participates with us and is part of the same mission and wants to get this revolution’s message out is welcome,” said Amer Hammoud, who was also protesting outside of the Helou police barracks.

However, not everyone believes the level of destruction and violence seen in Hamra Tuesday was warranted. An 18-year-old protesting at the Ring Bridge told The Daily Star that he was in support of the uprising but that “things yesterday did not need to happen the way that they did and the Army needs to stand with us and not against us.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 16, 2020, on page 2.

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