Smoke from tires burning on the Autostrade, filling the air. |
(18 Oct. 2019 – Karantina - Beirut)
A week ago there was an announcement, replete with locally generated “great and unmatched wisdom”, in which the government here would begin taxing Internet-based (VoIP) communications (such as Whatsapp, Messenger, FaceTime). As many have already said, this was just the match that lit a blaze, the straw that rendered the camel a paraplegic, yet became an almost-inconsequential detail leading to the explosion of protests all across the country. The outcry and rage even targeted certain well-known leaders whom the populace heretofore has never dared to (publicly) criticize.
Shuttered businesses the entire length of the
busy Arax Street. (23 Oct. 2019 – Bourj Hammoud)
So, the first couple of days we inhaled the acrid smell and particulates of burning tires, in addition to the ongoing stench of garbage dumps and polluted water. Those first few days also saw the emergence of a few disruptors who either were intent on destroying and looting private property, or reasserting the supremacy of their political party and its flags. Both types were quelled by Internal Security and Lebanese Armed Forces. Then emerged the chants of “Thawra! Thawra!” (“Revolution!” “Revolution!”). And the open-air party atmosphere. And the congenial “we’re all in this together” atmosphere.
Later, other slogans emerged, as the
demands intensified: “Kellon, ya3ni, kellon!” (“All
of them, that is, all of them!”), so that no one group would think its leader
exempt from the demands for a complete change in leadership – and a new
political system, one not based on religious identity. If there are 3 million
Lebanese in Lebanon, then thanks to television crews roaming in and among the
various protests sites we are hearing what seems to be 3 million statements of discontent from young and old blocking streets and highways. Their words are crammed with
emotion, seething with frustration at the struggle the average citizen has to
endure for things like inadequate health care, expensive education, intermittent electricity and water, poor waste
management, environmental degradation, unaffordable housing, corruption to the
core, and so much more, including a sky-high national debt.
Push-back against multinational corporations… and
an icon |
of the protests, a woman kicking an armed guard where it
hurts. (22 Oct. 2019 – Mar Mikhael - Beirut)
But what has been absent is someone to take the helm of this movement and focus it into a clearly-defined direction. The prime minister gave a public address the day after the start of the protests, but it appeared to be directed to his political opponents. The president addressed the country today, a week after the start of these events. A decade and a half ago a handful of potential alternative leaders may have existed, except that they disappeared one by one in still-unsolved car bombings. Where are the new visionaries to keep Lebanese from turning against one another, expressions of which are beginning to emerge? There is only so long that an outburst can be sustained, and so what is sometimes (erroneously) compared to Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution” may take some unwanted turns in the days to come. Chanting for overall change is a start, but the devil is in the details.
The last day Lebanon was able to focus on something
its protests. (16 Oct. 2019 – Bourj Hammoud)
And speaking of devils, only a few short weeks have passed since great (and locally great) powers have decided against the Kurds in northern Syria. It is such a familiar narrative; the roles now played by certain peoples and countries were played a century ago by many of the same minorities and world powers. And the story ends the same: strategic and oil interests superseding any humanitarian interest or pang of conscience. Who will be the losers in these military “games” being played out in the region? You can start with the great powers, who again squander their names as they easily abandon their local allies (We all should bring to mind how Armenian brigades and the population were betrayed by Europe). Yet a greater loss is being shouldered by the people of the land, not just Kurds, but Assyrians, Chaldeans, and, yes, Armenians. The Kurds may rebound due to sheer numbers. But what of the Christians, who are the ancient residents of that region? One of the winners no doubt will be the incipient “Islamic State Part 2”, thanks to the support of some and the negligence of others. So many devilish details, too many to keep track of, that invaders will just say “Oops” to you after the fact, as you disappear into the oblivion of genocide, deportation, migration and assimilation.
LebCat 28: A flat cardboard box is better than |
no box at all. Hanging out with LebCat 13.
(3 November 2018 – Bourj Hammoud)
But back to Lebanon. The protests continue, and roads are still blocked; sometimes by protestors, and sometimes by rainwater flooding the highways (like today) due to poor infrastructure… another burden borne by the population. But people need something beyond the protests – and they need a just resolution, without being co-opted by outside forces. They need to be able to work, to eat and send their children to school, but also to dream about the future and marry and care for and protect their homeland. Will this be a moment of historic change for Lebanon and its unity, or will it end in disarray and divisions? My hope and my prayer is that the people will continue to gather under the Lebanese flag, something all sincere religious leaders desire, and something the Bible commands us to do: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29.7). [LNB]