Updated: Saturday, 4th April 2020 @ 10:16am

Lebanese nationals stage sympathy protests in Piccadilly Gardens

Lebanese nationals stage sympathy protests in Piccadilly Gardens

| By Kit Roberts

Protests in Lebanon have led to sympathy protests throughout the Lebanese diaspora, including a gathering in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri recently resigned amidst the protests currently sweeping the country.

His resignation follows over a week of protests which has seen vast proportions of Lebanon united. Gatherings have been staged by Lebanese nationals in Manchester in solidarity with the protest movement.

Hariri’s government represents for many the failings of neo-liberalism in Lebanon, with expensive waterfront developments rising amongst growing piles of household waste symbolising the disparity between rich and poor, regardless of sectarian allegiance.

In spite of his aim to establish Lebanon as a independent centre for commerce and property development, Hariri has become mired in a toxic relationship with Saudi Arabia, epitomised when he was not allowed to leave the country following a state visit in 2017.

However, the anger of the protests are not limited to Hariri’s government, with parties representing every major sectarian group in Lebanon being universally condemned by the protests.

Many have praised the sense of unification and purpose in a country which has been blighted by sectarianism for most of its recent history. Some commentators are labelling the demonstrations a “Lebanese Revolution”, with many calling for a change of government. Voices on social media are hailing a new dawn for Lebanon.

In particular, women-led groups have been calling for reform to Lebanon’s highly conservative outlook on gender equality. This is no small issue in a country where a mother cannot pass her Lebanese nationality to her children, and marital rape is not illegal.

Not everyone shares this optimism. One protestor at the Manchester rally expressed cynicism at the division which has dominated Lebanon for decades.

“They are united for now, but how long can it last?”

More recent events have perhaps given weight to the more cynical, as mobs rumoured to be affiliated with Hezbollah attacked protestors in the street.

It is a good sign that protestors are directing their anger towards economic inequality rather than sectarian groups. The sense of unity created by economic insecurity should not be underestimated.

PILES OF RUBBISH

The last few years have seen power shortages and a crisis in waste management in Beirut. People frequently have to run their own generators to ensure they have a reliable supply of electricity as the official supply can be as low as four hours per day. Piles of rubbish in the street have become synonymous for many with the failings of President Michel Aoun and Hariri’s administration.

Recent government policy in Lebanon has been a series of moves to further privatise Lebanon’s public services and to open the country out to international investment. This strategy has met with little success, and has sparked anger over neglect towards public services and infrastructure.

This has been combined with an increase in property development and investment. This has roused anger among many people who feel it is depriving them of public spaces by shutting out undesirables.

Of more concern is that at present there does not appear to be any organised leadership of the protests, which could be detrimental to creating a set of demands.

Nonetheless, the resignation of Hariri, the latest in a Lebanese political dynasty, is indicative that the protests are causing change. How that change is manifested remains to be seen.

The most poetic response to protests has come from Lebanese indie band Mashrou’ Leila. Next to a picture of the mass protests in central Beirut, the band posted a poem including the line “Birds are singing songs of freedom”.

Whether this means the cage door remains shut or the protests will take flight into reform remains to be seen.