Demonstrations in Beirut – A Witness Account

By David Kamiab Hesari

David Kamiab Hesari is working on his PhD at the American University of Beirut. Over the last month getting to work was harder, but also more interesting due to demonstrations.

David wrote this text about his experience with the demonstrations.

Now that it’s been over a month since the protests started, I can give you a small overview.
It all started with protests about a tax on WhatsApp calls, on which the government decided. But of course that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Since the end of the civil war there is actually only a very small circle of the political elite, which governs the country. There is a lot of corruption and the country is extremely indebted which led to the government establishing an austerity program and raising taxes. State organizations do not work or are very corrupt: There are daily power cuts, there is no clean drinking water and the waste disposal does not work. The latter led to major protests in the country as early as 2015/16. In addition, large forest fires broke out the week before the protests. These have once again revealed the government’s inability to act. Help had to come from abroad to stop the forest fires.
What is special about these demonstrations is that they were not organised by any political, ethnic, social or religious group. For the first time all Lebanese are united to protest against the political elite and its government. This can also be seen from the fact that the protests did not show flags of political parties, but only Lebanese flags. On the first Saturday, over a million people protested across the country – a quarter of the population.
What particularly impressed me was the solidarity with each other. Food and drinks were distributed free of charge, music was played everywhere, T-shirts were printed, with revolutionary messages, etc. On every street corner there were meetings where everyone could say what they wanted for 10 minutes. Although I didn’t understand much, you could see that there was something going on here that had piled up for years if not decades. There was and still is a revolutionary spirit in the air and many call the protests only ” ثوره “- “Revolution”.
I also found it exciting to see how the youth recaptured the public spaces. Many buildings that had been empty since the end of the civil war were reoccupied and there were speeches, the walls were painted, and parties were held in the evenings.
The protests have once before achieved that the prime minister and his government resigned. However, many are demanding an end to all politics, corruption and that these people be held accountable and reported. So I don’t think the protests will end in the near future.
Because of the many roadblocks by the demonstrators I have to assess every day what the situation is like and whether it is possible for me to go to the lab and the American University of Beirut (AUB) was very often closed for solidarity and security reasons. Accordingly, however, the situation has calmed down recently and I was able to walk more often again.
What is special about these demonstrations is that they were not organised by any political, ethnic, social or religious group. For the first time all Lebanese are united to protest against the political elite and its government. This can also be seen from the fact that the protests did not show flags of political parties, but only Lebanese flags. On the first Saturday, over a million people protested across the country – a quarter of the population.
What particularly impressed me was the solidarity with each other. Food and drinks were distributed free of charge, music was played everywhere, T-shirts were printed, with revolutionary messages, etc. On every street corner there were meetings where everyone could say what they wanted for 10 minutes. Although I didn’t understand much, you could see that there was something going on here that had piled up for years if not decades. There was and still is a revolutionary spirit in the air and many call the protests only ” ثوره “- “Revolution”.
I also found it exciting to see how the youth recaptured the public spaces. Many buildings that had been empty since the end of the civil war were reoccupied and there were speeches, the walls were painted, and parties were held in the evenings.
The protests have once before achieved that the prime minister and his government resigned. However, many are demanding an end to all politics, corruption and that these people be held accountable and reported. So I don’t think the protests will end in the near future.
Because of the many roadblocks by the demonstrators I also have to look from day to day how the situation is and whether it is possible for me to go to the lab and the American University of Beirut (AUB) was very often closed for solidarity and security reasons. Accordingly, however, the situation has calmed down recently and I was able to walk more often again.

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