Revolt in Lebanon
For the first time, young Lebanese realize that the enemy is within.
An unprecedented phenomenon is occurring in Lebanon at this time. Young Lebanese are crossing confessional lines protesting the corruption of the elected elites. For the first time, Lebanese have realized that their enemy is not an outside force, rather it is within. It is their own government and political leaders. Young and older Lebanese are demonstrating against the widespread corruption and lack of economic reform. Similar protests are occurring in Shiite-controlled Iraq as well.
The inequality between the top 1% of the population and the rest of the Lebanese is confounding. This 1% have more wealth than 58% of the rest of the population. Lebanon’s billionaires have personal wealth estimated to be about $13.3 billion. In the meantime, Lebanon’s public debt exceeds $85 billion, which is more than 150% of its GDP.
One reason for the protests in Lebanon has been the government’s decision to tax the “What’s Up” app., which enabled ordinary Lebanese to make calls free of charge. The irony in this situation is that ‘What’s Up’ is an Israeli creation. The protesters used it to rally people across Lebanon. Lebanese MTV reported that two million people demonstrated in the streets of Lebanon, which is about half the population of the country.
Time Magazine reported on October 23, 2019, that “High, cement blast walls surrounding the United Nations offices in central Beirut are covered with anti-government graffiti. ‘Down with the rule of the mafia,’ is spray-painted next to the word ‘revolution.’ The names of every member of the Lebanese parliament are on the blast wall. The word ‘thief’ is written below each name. Nearby, a crowd chants the same, ‘thieves, thieves.” Lebanese protesters say their politicians have stolen tens, or even hundreds, of billions of dollars from them, aided by laws that allow bank secrecy. Hundreds of thousands of them have taken to the streets over the last six days, in the biggest protests to sweep the country in over a decade.”
Ordinary Lebanese feel that they have no voice in what is happening in the country. As if corruption and nepotism by the political elites were not enough, there is a looming cash crisis as banks in Lebanon remain closed to the public since the mass protests swept the country.
There is a long list of problems bedeviling Lebanon. One such problem is political sectarianism, and the split between pro and anti-Syrian factions. Another is, the proxy conflict between Lebanese-Sunnis supported by Saudi Arabia, and Shiites being supported by Iran. In addition, the government is unable to resolve issues of power and the distribution of resources. To all that, one has to add an environmental problem such as garbage. The uncollected garbage has become a health hazard as it has seeped into the Mediterranean Sea.
One of the many problems, particularly for the Hezbollah terrorists organization cum party, is the war in Syria. Hezbollah’s “soldiers” are doing Tehran’s bidding and propping up the Assad regime at a high cost. The U.S. crippling sanctions on Iran has reduced Tehran’s outlays to Hezbollah. As a result, Hezbollah was forced to cut salaries and services to its Shiite operatives, and community. These “soldiers” have been drafted from mostly poor Shiite neighborhoods, while the leadership is personally benefiting from the war. That has caused a great deal of resentment among the rank and file and prompted unprecedented protests.
Hezbollah, having prided itself for decades of protecting their impoverished co-religionists and fighting injustice, had its leader Hassan Nasrallah side with the corrupt authorities against the people in the streets. That’s a major setback for Hezbollah as it deals with the current protests, its most difficult domestic challenge so far. It has also resulted in Hassan Nasrallah losing ground with his own supporters.
The Hezbollah’s constituency was forced to accept as an ally, the corrupt Nabih Berri (Speaker of the Parliament). Then, when Lebanon’s economy started to deteriorate around the same time that Hezbollah’s finances were reduced, many Shiites could no longer pay their bills. Berri and his family’s corruption, and outrageous wealth could no longer be tolerated.
Hezbollah has hailed its alleged victories against Israel in forcing the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 and of winning the 2006 war with Israel. It has also claimed victory against Sunni radicals in Syria. This however, has done nothing to benefit the well-being of their Shiite constituents in Lebanon. Iran might have been benefiting from Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, but certainly not the Lebanese people or the Shiite community. In joining with other protesters, Shiites are seeking to claim their Lebanese identity rather than their religious (Shiite) identity, that has done very little for them. Hezbollah may be the most powerful force in Lebanon, controlling its government and military, but the Shiite community at large is still the poorest in the country.
Joseph Hakim is a native Lebanese with multiple connections to his Beirut hometown. He is also the President of the International Christian Union (ICU), an amalgam of Middle East Christian groups. Hakim had this to say about what he termed the ‘uprising and revolution.’ “Lebanon’s wealth has been depleted since the 1990’s by politicians the likes of Berri, Hariri, Suleiman, Frangieh, Mitaki, and others.” The protesters, Hakim pointed out “Are families who cannot afford to pay their kids tuition, nor their hospital bills. There are homeless in the streets, and desperate young people who want to leave Lebanon for a better future abroad. I cannot ignore the claims of these people, and can only sympathize with them.”
Hakim went on to say that “the problem with this revolution is that it lacks an organization, the protesters are, however, unanimous in their demand that the entire country’s officialdom resign.” The problem Hakim suggested is that “If the government is dissolved, it will be a catastrophe for Lebanon because the winner of all this will be Hezbollah and its 80,000 fighters.” Hakim continued, “Hezbollah has organized and funded three busloads full of gangs and dispatched them to disrupt the protesters gathering in Beirut. They came with knives, sticks, and loudspeakers, forcing the protesters to listen to Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah’s speech.”
Hakim stated that according to Lebanese President Michel Aoun, he presented 5 anti-corruption bills since 2013, while still serving as a member of parliament. The gist of these bills was aimed at censoring the Shiite Amal party leader, Nabih Berry’s corruption. Hakim clarified that after the Taif Agreement was signed (October 22, 1989), the presidency (a post occupied, according to the Lebanese constitution, by a Maronite-Christian) lost much of its power. Aoun and his son-in-law ultimately sold-out to Iran and Hezbollah, joining in partnership with Hezbollah in the March 8, political grouping.
Hakim concluded, “I agree with the protesters call for early parliamentary election, and the implementation of an election law that provides for equal participation of all the citizenry.” He added, “I am sad to see the deep split in the Christian community. It is reminiscent of 1988-1990 elimination struggles between the two largest Christian parties: The Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces. This will ultimately cause further weakening of the Christian community in Lebanon.”
In the final analysis, Lebanon needs a true democracy, one in which the government is accountable to the people, not run by a confessional oligarchy and controlled by a terrorist organization (Hezbollah) doing the bidding for the leading state-sponsor of worldwide terror, Iran.