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Hanin Ghaddar

Good intentions are not enough

But with the right strategy, it’s possible to succeed

(Illustration courtesy of NOW)

Lebanon was not directly involved in the recent Arab uprisings and revolutions. It was not possible for a number of reasons. Mainly, we do not have a dictator — our system is technically democratic, albeit sectarian. The more discouraging reason is that the Lebanese people have been divided between the two political camps: March 14 and March 8. We did not have a system — or nitham in this case — to revolt against or change. Our problem, in fact, is that we lack one.

 

And that’s exactly how the #YouStink movement took off. Because of our lack of strong state institutions, services have been deteriorating. The corruption of the political class has reached unbelievable levels, and our silence and acceptance has made it possible for political leaders to ignore the fact that they are supposed to serve the people. We forgot that we are citizens, and the sectarian leaders were never happier.

 

 

The fear factor

 

Lebanese have been living in fear for decades. Today some are scared of ISIS and others are scared of Hezbollah, and for valid reasons. Many prefer to hide behind their corrupt leaders than demand their basic rights and services. We got to a point where acting outside the sectarian box is scandalous and a matter of treason, and we feared insecurity until our agency as citizens almost vanished.

 

This fear, mixed with deep disappointment and disillusionment regarding political activism, changed us into zombie-like creatures with only one desire: to leave Lebanon for good. We’ve been through many wars and were presented with two chances for hope: the end of the Civil War, which brought hope to a destroyed country with the great potential; and the 2005 independence intifada that rid us of the Syrian regime’s hegemony over Lebanon’s political decisions and state institutions. In both cases, political activism changed nothing. Yesterday’s warlords are today’s politicians, and corruption has reached much deeper levels.

 

Therefore, when the #YouStink protests took to the streets, many Lebanese decided to reclaim the public space because they want the revival of the state institutions and citizenship, away from the outdated political division and certainly outside the sectarian box. And that’s exactly why everyone in the government panicked. For the first time, it was about the People vs. the rotten political class. It was about our basic rights as citizens.

 

 

Hopes and challenges

 

Unsurprisingly, then, things have gotten pretty ugly. When corrupt political leaders panic, they retaliate with brutality. Amal leader and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri sent his thugs into the streets to clash with security and the police and jeopardize the peaceful and civil image of the protest. But everyone was glad to see this, even those from the opposite political camp. No one did anything to stop it.

 

People continued to come to Riad al-Solh Square every night. Every night the violence increases and every night the thugs are sent, but people keep coming, even without the #YouStink movement, which halted its protests, calling for a major demonstration on Saturday.

 

It seems the street cannot be stopped, despite all the attempts to do so. Therefore, three issues need to be dealt with in order for #YouStink to succeed:

 

One, ensure politicians do not take advantage of the public space for political gains. This is the trickiest part. No corrupt politician whomsoever should be allowed to support or participate in the protests. Moreover, the demand to topple the government would be perfect for Hezbollah. The void created by the resignation of the government could lead to a new constitution for Lebanon, which is precisely Hezbollah’s long-term goal, and the party is extremely dangerous at the moment. With Hezbollah dominating security and the political scene in Lebanon, a new constitution would further empower the party, the sponsors of which want a three-way sharing power system — instead of two-way. Under such circumstances, in addition to their arms, any remaining hope for a sovereign Lebanon would be lost.

 

Hezbollah certainly does not want to see these protests continue — if, that is, they remain civil, independent and nonpartisan. It scares the Party of God that a movement outside their control could disrupt the status quo, or lead to political demands such as those called for by the ongoing protests in Iraq. Those protests also started with anti-corruption demands, and escalated to demonstrations against Iranian hegemony in Iraq.

 

Two, stay focused. In order to avoid further declines in state institutions in the event of a political void, organizers should focus on the priorities of the people. The priority now is the garbage crisis and finding a solution to it that doesn’t involve more corruption. Then, the organizers should move to other issues one by one. Toppling the government without a strategy for an alternative will prove foolish.

 

Three, find a way to maintain the peaceful, civil and nonsectarian spirit of the protest. Thugs should not be allowed to infiltrate and cause problems with the police. This is not going to be easy, but these thugs should not be allowed to take over public space.

 

If anything, and despite all the mistakes made during the past few days, this movement has thus far succeeded on three main levels: it has reopened public space to the people; moved us beyond the March 8/March 14 division; and more significantly, it has stripped all of Lebanon’s leaders of their seeming impunity.

 

Citizenship, basic services and rights, and the freedom to claim public space for public use are what the Lebanese are calling for. If the movement’s organizers remain cognizant of these points, the Lebanese public will for once have a choice.

 

Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council. She tweets @haningdr

(Illustration courtesy of NOW)

It seems the street cannot be stopped, despite all the attempts to do so."

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    ... short term, and in the more distant future, a major conflagration between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah.

    August 29, 2015

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    If you have noticed over the last couple of days how all the stakeholders who benefit from the system have declared they do not support the protest movement, including many in the press (obvious mouthpieces of the corrupt politicians) and also politicians who claim to be reformists (example: Aoun). Even the Maronite dinosaur Patriarch Rai has come out against the protests...what do you expect from him when he sees signs calling for secularizing the system? I predict that, as they have done in the past, the political-religious class will rally together to protect their major asset: a compliant Lebanese people, and agree to give people what they want: e.g. electing a president, or calling for parliamentary elections, etc. NOT to begin actually fixing the system, but to merely appear - I repeat: to appear - to give in to the demands in the hope of letting the protests die off or fissure, and go back to business as usual. There is so much at stake here for these political and religious bosses, regional and local, and their thugs down the chain of corruption, who have been robbing the Lebanese people blind for decades, that they won't let go easily. They will get back together and pretend to give the Lebanese people what they want ON CONDITION not to change the fundamentals: Sectarian division which is the incubator and protector of the corruption up and down the administrations (because that is how they feed their thugs). I agree with PHIL؟: it is going to get very ugly if the protesters remain as determined as they say they are, and the big elephant in the room that has been feeding off the putrefying corruption is Hezbollah. Remember, Hezbollah fed off many decades on two things: a so-called Israeli occupation, and the محرومين dispossessed class fallacy. When Israel withdrew in 2000, they had to invent the Shebaa lie. Fix the system, and they won't have anything left to hide their weapons behind. I see assassinations, repression, disappearances on the short term, and

    August 29, 2015

  • Phil؟

    This movement seems very improvised and random. Loose strings are hanging everywhere. No clear plan, no defined purpose, no attainable horizon. Slogans won't get you anywhere if you don't have a method. This isn't the seventies anymore. In addition, these guys are fighting something much bigger than them. I mean your average corrupt politician can surely be dealt with, and eventually replaced, but what do you do about a behemoth like Hizbollah? What do you do about the tens of thousands of brain-washed people who pledge allegiance to a foreign country (Iran) based on their sect and don't identify with anything that is Lebanese? The way I see it is that things won't get any better soon, they will only go south. God help us.

    August 28, 2015

  • Fuziyad1

    I am surprised to read something so naive coming from the author. We know full well that any disorganised questionning of the current lebanese system serves only Hezbollah. Here we have a demonstration about a trivial subject with a childish slogan which has the pretention to become a movement to change the system, not very serious but definitely dangerous ...Berri doesn't fear this demo, he loves it and he doesn't send his thugs to end it but to grow it and to use it.

    August 27, 2015

  • Petrossou

    Are you sure "this movement has thus far succeeded to move us beyond the March 8/March 14 division?" I am not so sure because it looks, on the contrary, that it is an 8 of March action that has been pushed further to clash with police and army to conduct the last country institution, that could still work, to resign. If the movement wants really to sort out the issue, they have to focus on the Presidential elections, thereafter on the legislative ones making sure these corrupted people are not re-elected again. Otherwise, they will see the others going out to the street and chaos will prevail.

    August 27, 2015

  • Beiruti

    Wise advice, Hanin. Sort of like what Benjamin Franklin said when he emerged from the constitutional convention in Phaladelphia in 1787 and was asked, "What did you give us?" And he said, "A Republic, if you can keep it." There will be no Hezbollah opposition to #YouStink as long as it's energy is to bring down the existing order, as this alligns with Hezbollah's interest and they like that others are doing the hard part. Hezbollah's attempted usurpation of the movement will come as it is time to build a new order. They may have already started. Assad's days in power are numbered, HA will need a State to protect it and so it will make its run on Lebanon with the HA plan of 1/3, 1/3, 1/3: Shia, Sunni, Christian, to corner Sunnis and to bleed the Christians with attrition. As the movement reaches critical mass, it also reaches the point of maximum danger. The organizers must be prepared, on guard and ready to defend against violence, if necessary.

    August 27, 2015

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    I disagree with your description of Lebanon as not having a نظام. Lebanon is not a mono-dictatorship, it is a poly-dictatorship. It is not a democracy, not even a theocracy; it is a poly-theocracy - the Lebanese people, by the dictates of a rotting constitution and some vague pact ميثاق , are foricbly herded into sectarian-religious concentration camps (Hassan Hamade calls them معسكرات) where, as with Nazi concentration camps, the guards are the feudal-money-religious families, their "parties", press mouthpieces and business enterprises, while the "Fuhrer" of each camp is the religious leader who runs everything from behind by self-proclaimed divine authority. The Lebanese people are not allowed to step outside the camps they were born into, nor are they allowed to start new camps. There is no individual liberty as defined by international law, there is only relative liberty, which is a byproduct of the coercive equilibrium between the sects. Let's say I am a Sunni. Relative to the other sects, being a Sunni provides with a measure of liberty against trespasses from the other sects. But within the Sunni community, I am a prisoner in thought, conscience, religious belief, etc... The protesters do speak in large part to this sense of being prisoners of our sects and of the "System" at large. The enlightened among the protesters want to rid us of this system, and the only way to do this is to abolish the sectarian basis of our identity, the religious laws etc. because they perpetuate our divisions, they are incubators of corruption that cannot be reformed lest the reformer is blamed for "encroaching" on the other sects. Yes, there is a NIDHAM, it is corrupt and archaic, and it is the source of all of our ills. IT MUST FALL. Between the entrenchment of the corrupt political establishment and its protection by the religious framework, there is no room for evolution in Lebanon. Only revolution.

    August 26, 2015

  • Amshit

    Thats the finest and most accurate view ive read on the future of Lebanese , and sadly several of those warlords, ( Guards ) who have become our captors, are aware of this and maxed it to the limits we have now reached

    August 28, 2015