LEBANESE ARMY MOVES IN TO CLEAR DEMONSTRATORS
▶ A technocratic administration could replace government and assume office by the weekend, sources say
Lebanon’s protests seemed poised to enter a new phase yesterday as the army moved to forcibly remove demonstrators and counter-protesters took to the streets in some areas.
A game of cat and mouse between protesters blocking major roads and the army clearing them took up much of the morning. Despite the efforts of soldiers, many motorways in the country were blocked.
Mass demonstrations have brought the country to a standstill for nearly a week as protesters demand the resignation of the government and an end to decades of ineffective leadership.
Despite a package of reforms pushed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, anger on the streets remains. Sources told local media that the failure to ease anger has led closeddoor political discussions on to forming a new technocratic administration.
The seventh consecutive day of the protests was one of contradictions.
While in the morning the army forcibly pushed people from motorways north of Beirut, in the afternoon videos of Lebanese soldiers crying as they stood in front of crowds singing the national anthem went viral.
The military leadership issued a statement saying it stood by the protesters in their “rightful demands” but called on them not to block roads.
Mr Hariri met security chiefs to discuss the situation. His office said he “stressed the need to maintain security and stability and to open roads and secure the movement of citizens”. But the protest movement has come to see its ability to keep the country paralysed as the main weapon against a state that wants to return to normal.
In south Lebanon’s Nabatiyeh, 15 people were injured in scuffles between a demonstration and a counter-protest backing Parliament Speaker and Amal Movement head
Nabih Berri. The army had tried to keep the two groups apart. Mr Berri said yesterday that the country could no longer bear the paralysis of the week of demonstrations, according to Amal Movement MP Ali Bazzi.
Banks are likely to remain closed today, making it a week since financial institutions were last open. The Association of Banks maintained that
ATMs were still functioning and that debit and credit cards would work as normal. However, reports of empty ATMs were growing and many people expressed concerns about what would happen when machines ran out of money.
Universities and schools remain closed.
Standing under a ripped poster of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Omar Ahlab sold coffee to protesters in Tripoli on Tuesday night.
The “capital of the north”, Tripoli is the second-biggest city in a country where thousands gathered for a sixth consecutive day of anti-government protests.
The city has a sizeable Sunni majority. Despite this, all respect for Mr Hariri, who is also the leader of Lebanon’s Sunni community, has gone.
“Hariri said he would fix the country, but he destroyed everything,” Mr Ahlab said. “We want all politicians to go.”
Still visible at the bottom of Mr Hariri’s poster was the sentence “we are all with you”.
This was printed on thousands of posters across the country as a show of support for Mr Hariri after his surprise resignation in November 2017, which he later rescinded.
When prime minister formed his Cabinet this year after nine months of political squabbling, he vowed to “work, work, work”, to implement economic reforms.
But his government’s apparent lack of results has left many Lebanese disappointed.
“We do not want Hariri, [President Michel] Aoun, or [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah,” said Ahmad Al Amouri, 50, a carpenter and father of six who attended the protests with his family.
“Before, in the north, people liked Hariri, but now nobody wants him any more, whatever he does.”
Mr Al Amouri said he struggles to pay his monthly rent of $400 (Dh1,469).
“There is no work and no money in Tripoli. Politicians buy votes with $50. This is an indication of how hungry our people are.”
Like many other protesters, Mr Al Amouri said he wanted the government to resign and be replaced by technocrats.
“I want a new government that looks after people who are dying of hunger,” he said.
Local news media reported yesterday that politicians were discussing a Cabinet reshuffle or the resignation of government.
“You can see from their decisions that they are scared and do not know what to do. Yesterday, the education minister announced that universities would open on Wednesday, before backtracking half an hour later,” a demonstrator said.
Commercial activity ground to a halt in Lebanon on Tuesday as roads, banks, shops and universities stayed closed.
The drive from Beirut to Tripoli, which normally takes a little more than an hour, took four hours because of roadblocks.
Protesters have grown tired of politicians’ promises and were united in their rejection of the ruling elite that has governed the country since the end of the civil war in 1990.
The figure of 80,000 protesters on Tuesday night in Tripoli was widely relayed among locals, although no official figures was released.
Lebanese news media previously reported that posters of several politicians had been taken down last week in Tripoli, including those of former prime minister and millionaire, Najib Mikati.
A former member of parliament was attacked on Friday when he tried to join the protests. His bodyguards opened fire, wounding four people.
Amal El Jamal, 38, a teacher who was out protesting on Tuesday evening, said she was not surprised that the posters of politicians were shredded.
“We were promised many things, and nothing happened. We do not have electricity, water or social security,” she said.
“You cannot blame people who hung the posters in the first place, they are poor and need [political support] to put their kids in schools and hospitals. But it is our right also to not have posters of politicians up.”
Other protesters were more subtle in their criticism of Mr Hariri, but none said they would vote for him.
“His father [Rafic Hariri], may his soul rest in peace, did a lot. But in my opinion, Saad Hariri is not a politician. He was a businessman, and they told him that because he is Sunni Muslim he must be like his father and replace him,” said English teacher Maya Fawad, 35.
The younger Hariri succeeded his father after the former prime minister was assassinated in 2005.
Fingers pointed to Damascus, which had occupied Lebanon for 29 years, prompting huge protests that pushed Syrian troops out of the country.
Although many have compared the current uprising with events of 2005, protesters in Tripoli said that this time they are more significant.
“In 2005, the Lebanese protested for Rafic Hariri. Now, all the Lebanese are doing this for themselves, for our passport, for our future, for our kids,” said photographer Omar El Imady, 25.
Women and Lebanese soldiers face off in Zouk Mosbeh yesterday, the seventh day of protests against taxes and corruption