The small Mediterranean nation is experiencing its worst economic crisis since the civil war of 1975-1990

The virus of protest re-emerges in Lebanon

AP/BILAL HUSSEIN - An anti-government protester holds a Lebanese flag while others burn tires and garbage cans during ongoing protests against the Lebanese government in Beirut, Lebanon, on Saturday, June 6, 2020

"Traditionally, economics has ignored politics, but an understanding of politics is essential to explain inequality in the world. With these words, the author of the book Why Countries Fail attempts to explain the origins of power, prosperity and poverty.  The collapse of the currency, rising inflation and the deep financial crisis that Lebanon has been going through since last October have created the perfect scenario for the protests that have plagued the country to resurface more strongly than ever, after a hiatus for the coronavirus, while at the same time tensions have increased between supporters and opponents of the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah. 

Un manifestante libanés sostiene una pancarta frente a la mezquita de Mohammad al-Amin durante una manifestación en el centro de Beirut, el 6 de junio de 2020

Lebanon - a country of some five million people and home to more than 1.5 million refugees - is one of the world's most indebted nations. The state led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab is currently facing its worst economic crisis since the country's 1975-1990 civil war. The protests that began in October to end widespread corruption and mismanagement of resources have now turned into violent demonstrations over an economic crisis that has brought Lebanon to the brink, partly exacerbated by measures imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

"We came to the streets to demand our rights, to ask for health care, education, jobs and the basic rights that human beings need to stay alive," a student demonstrating in the country's capital told the AFP news agency. The wounds of the conflict that confronted various religious and political groups several decades ago have reopened in the midst of a pandemic that has left more than 1,331 cases in the country.  Violence has become the focus of recent protests after a series of Hezbollah supporters clashed with some protesters demanding the disarmament of the Iranian-backed Shiite group.

Un manifestante antigubernamental lanza gas lacrimógeno a los policías antidisturbios

Hezbollah, which translated into Spanish means "Party of God", is the only group that has kept its weapons since the end of the Lebanese civil war, an event that has divided this nation. "Weapons should only be in the hands of the army," stressed a 57-year-old woman who was present at these protests; a demonstration in which Hezbollah supporters and opponents threw stones at each other, leading the security forces to intervene, forming a human chain to prevent further violence. 

Cientos de manifestantes libaneses se reunieron en el centro de Beirut el sábado, con la esperanza de reiniciar las protestas antigubernamentales

The security authorities also fired tear gas near a street leading to the Parliament building around Martyrs' Square, one of the focal points of these protests. The Lebanese Red Cross has reported on Twitter that at least 48 people have been injured during these protests, of whom 11 have had to be taken to the nearest hospitals for treatment. 

This small country has been the victim of a series of political crises in recent years. However, these tensions went further after the government announced new fiscal measures on 17 October. These reforms were the spark that lit the fuse of a peaceful revolution, in which thousands of people of different religions and social classes in the country took to the streets to demand economic and social reforms and to demand the resignation of some political leaders, whom they accuse of corruption. 

Un manifestante antigubernamental lanza una piedra a la policía antidisturbios durante una protesta, en el centro de Beirut, Líbano, el sábado 6 de junio de 2020

"I am going to the Baabda Palace to present the resignation of the government to the president, Michel Aoun, in response to the many Lebanese who went out into the squares to call for change". With these words, the then Lebanese minister, Saad Hariri, announced the resignation of his executive, after several weeks of protests. The new government led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab regretted shortly after coming to power that it had to deal with an economic disaster and passed a new law aimed at implementing various reforms and fighting corruption. 

 Manifestantes libaneses se enfrentan a la policía antidisturbios tras una manifestación en el centro de Beirut, el 6 de junio de 2020

The Lebanese pound - dependent on foreign investment and the solvency of the dollar - has lost more than half its value since last October and has suffered a serious fall in recent days. In this context of instability, more than 35 percent of Lebanese are unemployed, while poverty threatens more than 45 percent of the population, according to official estimates to which the AFP news agency has had access. 

"I want the governing authority to hear my voice. I don't care who the ruling class is; what I care about is getting my rights. I have two options: go out in the streets and protest, or stay at home and starve," Ghina Jamil, a teacher who went out on Saturday to protest in the streets of the country's capital, told the Arab News. These protests, which were relegated to the background during the coronavirus crisis, took on new dimensions after a 26-year-old lost his life during the clashes between the protesters and the Lebanese army in the northern city of Tripoli, not to be confused with the capital of Libya.

Un manifestante libanés patea una bombona de gas lacrimógeno en medio de los enfrentamientos con la policía antidisturbios tras una manifestación en el centro de Beirut, el 6 de junio de 2020

The confinement and the various measures taken to stop the spread of this pathogen paralysed these demonstrations for several weeks. However, with the arrival of normality, protests have also resumed. On Friday, dozens of people took to the streets with banners calling for early parliamentary elections and lamenting that confidence in the ruling elite had been shattered. The Arab News has interviewed social movements researcher Nizar Hasann, who believes there is a big difference between the popular uprising last October and the protests that have conquered much of the country this weekend. 

"The uprising of October 17 is over and we will not return to the previous situation. It is a pity that the political class has used the three-month grace period (caused by the pandemic) to restore political divisions. The first uprising united people from different sects, doctrines and ideologies around common demands. The events of the past are causing collective frustration and people no longer have the same beliefs they had on October 17," he concluded.