Thousands fed up with political status quo take part in demonstrations across Lebanon
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.
Lebanese activists carry banners reading ‘We will not pay the price’ during a protest on Saturday