Thou­sands fed up with po­lit­i­cal sta­tus quo take part in de­mon­stra­tions across Le­banon

The National - News - - NEWS - SUNNIVA ROSE Beirut

Thou­sands of peo­ple protested this week­end across Le­banon to de­mand im­proved health ser­vices, jobs, fairer tax­a­tion and an end to sec­tar­i­an­ism.

In re­cent months, more strikes and de­mon­stra­tions have taken place across the coun­try as dis­con­tent grows against a dis­tant rul­ing elite un­able to form a gov­ern­ment in the eight months since elec­tions.

While Satur­day’s demon­stra­tion was or­gan­ised by civil so­ci­ety groups in Beirut, sev­eral small left-lean­ing par­ties led yes­ter­day’s protests in the coun­try’s other main cities.

Le­banon’s main po­lit­i­cal par­ties did not take part.

No of­fi­cial fig­ures have been re­leased but one of the or­gan­is­ers of a demon­stra­tion in the city of Si­don said more than 5,000 peo­ple had par­tic­i­pated.

In Satur­day’s demon­stra­tion in Beirut civil so­ci­ety groups, whose list won one seat in Par­lia­ment in the last elec­tions, or­gan­ised a march from the Labour Min­istry in the city’s Haret Hreik area to the Health Min­istry in Bir Hasan to high­light un­em­ploy­ment and a dys­func­tional health sys­tem.

About 500 peo­ple at­tended, said Darin Dan­dachly of Beirut Mad­i­nati, a cit­i­zen’s move­ment born out of the 2016 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions.

Re­li­able sta­tis­tics are dif­fi­cult to come by in Le­banon but Ms Dan­dachly said a third of the coun­try’s young peo­ple were un­em­ployed, ac­cord­ing to her move­ment’s re­search.

While the largely pri­va­tised health­care sys­tem can be ex­cel­lent, many Le­banese can­not af­ford to use it. At least half of the work­force is em­ployed in­for­mally, which means they have no ac­cess to so­cial se­cu­rity and of­ten can­not af­ford pri­vate in­sur­ance.

Hos­pi­tals are fac­ing gaps in their bud­gets as min­istry fund­ing for health care cov­ered by so­cial se­cu­rity is de­layed or in­ad­e­quate.

“Ev­ery now and then we hear of some­one dy­ing at a hos­pi­tal door be­cause of lack of treat­ment,” said Arabi Al An­dari, a mem­ber of the Le­banese Com­mu­nist Party who took part in the de­mon­stra­tions.

The coun­try has a deeply un­equal so­ci­ety, with sev­eral Forbes-listed bil­lion­aires in­clud­ing two for­mer prime min­is­ters, along­side a poverty-stricken lo­cal and refugee pop­u­la­tion.

The top 2 per cent of tax­pay­ers earn 17 per cent of to­tal na­tional in­come, a 2017 UN De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme re­port said.

Many demon­stra­tors blamed sec­tar­i­an­ism for the coun­try’s prob­lems. A con­fes­sional agree­ment means the pres­i­dent is al­ways a Ma­ronite Chris­tian, the prime min­is­ter a Sunni and the Speaker of Par­lia­ment a Shi­ite.

Power-shar­ing along re­li­gious lines also oc­curs at the top of im­por­tant gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions, which the UN say en­cour­ages nepo­tism.

Al­though the Taif Ac­cord that ended the coun­try’s 15-year civil war in­cludes an ar­ti­cle about end­ing po­lit­i­cal sec­tar­i­an­ism, no progress has been made in the en­su­ing years.

EPA

Le­banese ac­tivists carry ban­ners read­ing ‘We will not pay the price’ dur­ing a protest on Satur­day

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