“A great revolution is never the fault of the people, but of the government.” ~Johann Von Goethe
If you know anything about Lebanon and its history, you know how deep sectarianism is embedded into its roots. Lebanon has been dissected and governed by conflicting sects ever since The Taif Agreement in 1989, with every one of them claiming rule over a certain region (or a number of regions) as a way to stop the civil war.
These same sects also have deep roots within the minds of the Lebanese, with each follower of a sect believing sacredly that theirs is the one doing what’s best for the nation and the people, and that their leader is perfect and infallible. Even Lebanon’s children grow up with a degree of political and sectarian knowledge.
It was a big shock, then, to see recently these people shedding their sectarian subordination which they’ve had for decades, in a single day. The protests we’re seeing today in Lebanon, now 14 days old, are by no means the first the country has experienced.
The “You Stink!” protests which took place back in 2015 were believed to be the ultimate turning point for Lebanon’s political life. However, they turned out to be fruitless because people were still defensive when it came to their respective sects and their representatives in the government.
Hence the following questions pose themselves: Why try again now? What’s different this time? Won’t sectarianism kill this revolution like before? As will be shown, these protests are indeed very different from all the past ones.
Let’s dive into the reasons and take a look at how today’s Lebanese revolutionists are indeed abolishing sectarian subjection.
Lebanon has always been a struggling country, there’s no debate about that. It was estimated that in 2018, 1.5 million Lebanese were living below the poverty line, of whom 470,000 are children. The fact that 40% is the approximate percentage of unemployment doesn’t help and, to top it all, the cost of living in Lebanon is very high.
Coupled with the aforementioned, the compiled bills of education, healthcare, electricity, and other essential services mean that many Lebanese people reach the end of each month with severe debt on their backs.
Expensive healthcare means people getting sick and not having the money to be well again. Lacking the money needed to hospitalize a loved one must be a heart-rending experience. Watching them pass away right in front of the hospital door, on the other hand, is something I believe to be too painful for words to describe.
Just this week, a hospital refused to release the body of a protester to his brother and family, holding the dead body hostage, until they get to pay an exuberant amount of money, which they can’t possibly get.
Throughout all this misery, the most important thing to keep in mind is this: When you live under the shadow of a political party, you are constantly sedated by the promise of a proper, dignified life; you are always told that life without your sect would be unbearable.
Furthermore, finding any job in Lebanon is extremely difficult, let alone one that pays well. People who are comfortable with their jobs and salaries are those who are backed by a Wasta (connection).
It is well known in Lebanon that if you wish to be employed in a major company, a government job, a security force (even the army!), you need The Wasta. Without it, all your skills, experience, and edges mean nothing.
Moreover, if you have zero skills, no experience, and are barely educated, you can get the best-paying jobs in the country if your sectarian nepotist is powerful enough.
This dependency on sects for a living, and the realization that your life’s work to reach high educational levels turned out to be out of fashion in Lebanon, have put “Wasta-less” Lebanese citizens (especially youth) in front of 2 options.
The first being immigration, and the second being remaining in Lebanon and holding on to a glimpse of hope that it would all change eventually.
Many chose the first option in desperation and have sacrificed the warmth of their homes and closeness of their families and loved ones for the sake of providing for them on one hand, and leading a proper life with an ambitious future on the other.
The ones that remained home struggled to survive. In the hearts of both, a small flame had ignited, relatively unnoticeable, but it was there; it was alive.
On Sunday, October 13, 2019, the Lebanese people woke up to the horrifying scene of wildfires, spanning numerous forests and areas across the country, engulfing whole forests, and invading their houses.
Soon after, the same people woke up again to yet another horrifying realization: No help was coming, and they were alone against the fire. This meant that they had to work together alongside civil defense and other brave volunteers to fight the fires, all while the government watched in almost complete indifference.
Only through unity could the people fight and put an end to the fires, and working together must have given them a sense of power and ability; something that would be a factor in the events that would unfold later on.
The combined efforts of the Lebanese and their aiders eventually succeeded in putting out the terrible fires. The wildfires left everyone in Lebanon perplexed by and angry with the ruling class, which seemed unshaken by the size of the disaster that had hit their country.
The fires fed the burning flame in every Lebanese; the people were furious with the authority.
As they got themselves back on their feet after the fire catastrophe, they shifted their attention back to the other overwhelming crises in the country. The declining economy, the false promises, the corruption; it was all very debilitating for everyone.
But through all that, the people resumed their work in silence, in humiliating acceptance, in submission to their harsh, seemingly set-in-stone reality. That’s when everything changed, shocking news spreading everywhere: More taxes planned! Taxes on social media, on Whatsapp!
And this is where everything fell apart. This is where the matrix was exposed; this is where the flame that had been growing all this time, reached its full burning potential.
And thus the fire of the revolution was unleashed, shattering every norm, every tradition, and every chain. Sectarianism was an intellectual prison, and the people were finally able to escape its impossible dungeons.
It’s not the tax on Whatsapp itself that had people flooding the streets and calling for the toppling of the system. No, it’s everything that preceded that. It’s every ounce of pressure put by the government on every repressed citizen.
It’s the poor healthcare, the hopelessness that comes with seeking a normal life in a political system like the one in Lebanon. It’s every weight imposed on every Lebanese combined together that caused the explosion.
The frivolous plan to implement a tax on a social media platform represented the final straw. It led many people to finally understanding that they have always been completely and utterly disregarded by those who had promised them a better life, and it has finally made them see the plain truth about their leaders.
It also showed them that the members of the political system, constituted of all the sects combined, were paying back the state’s economic deficit, which they had caused in the first place by using that money for personal benefits, from the pockets of the poor, and that was just unbearable.
The wind of the revolution also reached the immigrants, who wasted no time and took advantage of the golden opportunity to support their people and help fix their country. Most shouted out in the protests that they were away from home and families because of the same pain the people in Lebanon are suffering.
The several failed attempts by the sects to disrupt and disperse the revolutionists with mind games show that they have been stung by the people’s rise against them.
The immunity that the protesters showcased led the parties to resort to verbal abuses online against the Lebanese women protesting, and also violence out of desperation. But their witless measures only caused people to be more determined to work together and force their nation’s dictators to step down and yield.
So, to answer the question, what’s different this time around?
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