Crisis

Why protesters are struggling to re-mobilize the masses

The situation has deteriorated so much in the past eight months that it is almost unbelievable that the country's squares are not packed with protestors. But many think this won't last for long ...


Why protesters are struggling to re-mobilize the masses

Are we going to see the squares packed again? And what form the protests against hunger will take? Patrick Baz / AFP Archives

"I don't understand, why aren’t we all in the streets? Why are we pretending to be living while the country is dying?" This is how a social media activist sums up the frustration of many Lebanese today, who do not understand why the protest movement triggered on October 17 by a proposed six dollar tax (among others) - and which has so far failed to realize its objective of eradicating corruption in the Lebanese system - is struggling to resume its rhythm in the street eight months later, despite the economic and social collapse. Activists present on the ground explain to L'Orient-Le Jour why it is not so wise to compare the current situation to that of last October, and analyze the conditions which could drive a mass return to the protest squares.

"Maybe people are desperate and disappointed in ways they were not yet in October," said activist Samir Skaff. "We are trying to rekindle the spirit of the revolution, but ultimately it is the crowds who will choose their moment to take to the streets. In my opinion, a real social explosion is inevitable. "

For political activist Lucien Bourjeily, a comparison with October 2019 is in fact not valid for several reasons. "We notice a kind of media blackout, or at least a big difference compared to the coverage provided in the first months of the revolution," he said. “I do not know the cause, but the consequence is that the population is not always informed about the movements on the streets, since calls for protests are limited to social networks."

The other reason, Bourjeily said, is purely political. "Many political parties, despite being an integral part of the system we are seeking to change, consider themselves today as part of the opposition," he noted. "Their presence on the ground among the demonstrators discourages many of the October 17 protestors who worry about being used as pawns in the political game, while they in fact oppose the whole system. "

The lack of a clear leadership for the revolution also plays a role in its demobilization, believes Bourjeily, who put the relevance of this argument into perspective. "There are pros and cons," he said. “It is true that a leadership would help mobilize the crowds, but it may also exacerbate internal and external tensions within the movement. Today, new political parties born outside the system could represent a viable alternative. But in my opinion, it would be better to focus on toppling the current regime and call for the replacement of the political class through elections. "

The activist is concerned, however, "that fear would paralyze people; not only fear of detention or violence, but also fear related to outright survival". "When we all spontaneously took to the streets on October 17, we were still on dry land, and we decided to jump off the edge," he said. “Today, we are on quicksand. Many need to find anchors before they go again. "

Violence is more than a risk, it is an almost certainty

Fear is justified, according to Samir Skaff, although it should not stop people from demanding their rights. "I believe we are past the stage of economic problems and entering an era of insecurity," Skaff said. "Street movements will no longer be the same as at the beginning, there is no longer room for negotiations, the thieves must be taken down at any cost. I expect the upcoming movements to be accompanied by violence, which often turns into riots given the deteriorating economic and social situation. It is a certainty, we must deal with this situation, but it should not discourage us from moving forward. "

The activist, however, does not know when the crowds will return to the squares, and this is also the opinion of Camille Mourani, another political activist. "I think the social explosion is inevitable, but no one can predict when and under what circumstances it will break out," he said. "Maybe a small incident will be enough to set things off. The protestors have learned to accept that they cannot predict the behavior of the crowd."

However, Mourani admitted that he does not always understand the state of mind of the Lebanese public when it comes to the revolution. "I have the impression that protesters only take to the streets when they feel like they are going to make a change," he said. “The regime in power is deeply rooted in society, and even in the region. We should admit that opposing it involves many difficulties. "

Mourani believes, however, that there is another reason why the Lebanese are not returning to the street. "The demands are not always clear," he said. While Samir Skaff thinks that the fall of the current government should be a top priority, Camille Mourani is convinced that they should aim higher; the fall of the government means replacing a few names, without any real change taking place. "In my opinion, we must demand the resignation of the President of the Republic to create a real shock," he said. “Wouldn't the current president have demanded the departure of another if such circumstances existed under another mandate? "

Whatever the demands may be, the activist is convinced that the protest groups must continue to work to reach a unified roadmap, which would serve as a guideline for the protestors when they return the street.


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 3rd of July)



"I don't understand, why aren’t we all in the streets? Why are we pretending to be living while the country is dying?" This is how a social media activist sums up the frustration of many Lebanese today, who do not understand why the protest movement triggered on October 17 by a proposed six dollar tax (among others) - and which has so far failed to realize its objective of eradicating...

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