This was initially published in the book ‘A Region in Revolt: Mapping the Recent Uprisings in North Africa and West Asia‘ in June of 2020 and was co-written with Jade Saab. The below version is close to the finalized one available in the book.
On the night of October 13-14, wildfires ravaged Lebanon and parts of Syria. Lebanon lost up to 3,000,000 trees, nearly doubling the annual average of tree loss in just 48 hours. The government, which had already come under sharp criticism for its failure to contain the crisis, proposed on October 17 a bill that would tax Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) apps such as WhatsApp. This proposed ‘Whatsapp tax’ was framed by the government as an attempt to bring in additional revenue in order to unlock over $11 billion worth of “aid” promised at the CEDRE conference in Paris, the fourth in a series of conferences that began with PARIS 1 in February of 2001.
The contrast between citizen’s reactions to the fires and the state’s response 48-hours later was striking. Civilians of all backgrounds, including from the Palestinian refugee camps, banded together to try and turn the fires off. The country also received aircrafts sent by Jordan, Cyprus and Greece, and, luckily enough, rain. At the same time, government elites such as Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) politician Mario Aoun, claimed that the fires were only affecting Christian areas, ignoring the fact that the Shouf region, where much of the fires happened, is actually a Druze-majority area. Other politicians even tried to scapegoat Syrian refugees, claiming that some of them were starting the fires to move into abandoned Lebanese homes.
The frustrations around government incompetence led to, on the night of October 17th, thousands taking to the streets throughout Lebanon, including Beirut, Tyre, Baalbek, Nabatiyeh, Saida, and many other places in what were to be called spontaneous protests. It seemed the so-called ‘Whatsapp tax’ was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The protests were at such a scale that the government withdrew its planned tax immediately.
What would later be called the October 17th Uprising or Revolution followed years of mobilization by protesters and activists, culminating in the 2015 ‘You Stink’ movement, the 2016 municipal elections and the 2018 parliamentary elections. The political and economic failures of the years preceding October 17, 2019 helped fuel the flames of the uprising spreading a sense of ‘now or never’. By October 18, parts of downtown Beirut were on fire and large parts of the country were completely shut down by roadblocks, many of which involved burning tires.
Since the start of the uprising, the financial situation in Lebanon has greatly deteriorated, and has also been joined by the global COVID-19 pandemic. However, financial troubles in Lebanon did not start in 2019. Since the 2011 Middle East and North African Uprisings, Lebanon has witnessed the flight of Gulf capital. The worsening of the Syrian economy also had a knock-on effect on Lebanon. Corruption and the national debt—the vast majority of which (approximately 90%) is owed to local banks and the central bank—resulted in several bank runs, fuel shortages, and strikes. Although many media outlets, and even many Lebanese commentators, focused on the so-called “Whatsapp tax,” it was the combination of all of these factors and many more that inspired outrage.
Since the end of the civil war, Lebanon’s transnational warlord-oligarch class has perfected the rules of the game. The state serves as a vessel through which this class can do business with itself and with Gulf, Iranian, and Western elites. Clientalist networks maintain structures of power benefitting this class and keeping segments of the population dependent on them. Public infrastructures have been left to rot while rapid privatizations limit freedom of movement between regions and regularly paralyzes the whole country.
As such, the 2019 Uprising needs to be understood as a process of recovery from 15 years of civil war and the near three decades that followed in which Lebanese have been navigating life in a country whose affairs they have had very little say over. This chapter will show how the current uprising is anything but spontaneous, as the economic conditions and the forces of the uprising have been undergoing a process of crystallization since 2011. We will also show how the uprising itself has acted as a catalyst for contending with the foundational myths of the nation as a whole as a path forward is attempted to be cleared. Finally, we will make the case that a sustained decentralized resistance is the most appropriate way to manoeuvre around the risks this uprising presents.
Sectarianism, Civil Wars, and Lebanon’s founding myths
As with any other nation, Lebanon has a set of founding myths that help justify the existence of a ruling class. These myths help hide the material relations and dynamics that recreate the ruling class and thus serve an important ideological function.
Most important of these myths is that of the emergence of ‘modern Lebanon’ and the National Pact. The myth suggests that the National Pact was a Lebanese invention that helped Lebanon gain independence from France on November 22, 1943. The National Pact was a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ in which the division of seats in parliament and the allocation of major government roles were agreed on a confessional basis. The Pact was based on the Lebanese census of 1932, the last one to be held, seats in parliament were divided between Christians and Muslims at a 6:5 ratio representing the overall diversity of the Lebanese population. Furthermore, the pact agreed that Lebanon’s President and the Head of the Army will always be Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister will be Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the House to be Shia Muslim.
The National Pact, however, was far from the first time that such a ‘balance of power’ was used in Lebanon. The first appeared in 1860 after the establishment of the ‘Mutasarrifate’ of Mount Lebanon. The Mustasarrifate was established to put an end to sectarian wars that had erupted in Ottoman Mount Lebanon during the 1840s and 1860s. The wars can best be described as peasant uprisings against feudal privileges and an economic shift towards cash crop productions. The wars also reflected proxy conflicts between the Ottoman Empire, the British, and the French. To end these conflicts the Mutasarrifate would be ruled by a Mutasarrif who would be appointed by the Ottoman Empire but would need to be approved by the other colonial powers. Assisting the governor would be 12 counsellors, two from each religious community (Maronites, Druze, Sunni, Shi’a, Greek Orthodox, and Melkite). Confessionalism, as it came to be known, was later enshrined in the Lebanese constitution of 1926 under French Mandate which sought for an equal distribution of parliamentary seats between Christians and Muslims. This, however, was meant to be a temporary provision and the elimination of confessionalism is mentioned as a “basic national objective” for Lebanon.
The National Pact then was in no way an original invention, neither was it an inevitable precondition for Lebanese independence. What those myths allowed for however, was the protection of the privileged position of established families who could trace their power back to the feudal and administrative power structures under Ottoman rule. The National Pact made sure that the development of Lebanon’s productive forces under French imperialism (ports, banking, railroads) would now benefit them and not a foreign power.
The inefficiency of the confessional system turned fatal in 1958. With rising Pan-Arab sentiments and secular revolutionary fervour following the Iraqi revolution of the same year, an insurrection took place in Lebanon. The insurrection was quelled when the army, led by Fouad Chehab, refused to take sides. US troops were also deployed in Lebanon under the Eisenhower Doctrine at the request of then President Camille Chamoun as the insurrection was seen as being supported by the Soviet Union via the recently established United Arab Republic (Egypt and Syria). Chehab was later elected president for his ability to negotiate between the two sides of the insurrection. Chehab’s presidency ushered in a relative calm. His six-year presidential term, and that of his successor, was dubbed the “Chehabist Era” and came to be known as the golden age of Lebanon.
The Chehabist Era brings us to a second foundational myth and the creation of a dangerous norm within Lebanese politics. Chehab’s appointment as President set the precedent for military leaders being seen as natural consensus candidates between political factions, a case that would be repeated many times, and of viewing the army as a generally ‘neutral force’. More importantly, however, is the myth of Lebanon’s golden age. Although Chehab was able to pass several important reforms during his term, stability in Lebanon was maintained mostly through the draconian use of Lebanon’s security forces. Chehab’s intervention in the insurrection also suppressed any talk of transcending Lebanon’s confessional system. Quelling the insurrection meant Lebanon entering a state of reactiveness where internal policies were dictated by and subordinated to Cold War balances of power.
Lebanon’s ‘Golden Age’ has become a key element in Lebanese nostalgia. Its existence is tied to the presence of a ‘strong state’ and has given rise to a ‘weak state theory’ where Lebanon’s ills can be solved if only its institutions were strengthened. And that it is Lebanon’s political parties themselves that are weakening the state. This ignores the fact that the function of the confessional state is purposefully designed as such to enable capital accumulation for the ruling class. This misdiagnosis of the function of the state leads to the fetishization of the ‘strong states’ of the West and non-democratic Gulf regimes, obscuring those countries’ own processes of capital accumulation.
Ironically, after arguably saving the confessional system through his intervention, Chehab refused to stand as president again in 1970 dramatically declaring that the people of the country were not ready to build a true nation-state. That statement solidified the myth of ‘the people’ being responsible for the pitfalls of decisions made by the ruling class.
Lebanon’s sectarian system finally birthed the inevitable in the form of the 1975 Civil War. The aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which ended in a decisive Israeli victory, also saw years of mass protests in Lebanon where tensions over pan-Arabism, secularism, the Palestinian question and the presence of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon legitimized by the 1969 Cairo Agreement, and Lebanese nationalism proved too much to handle. The civil war quickly devolved into a sectarian one with the creation of new political parties drawn exclusively across confessional lines. In the span of fifteen years, the country would also see two separate military occupations, Israel’s (1982-2000) and Syria’s (1976-2005), both of which started with the stated intention of destroying Palestinian factions and their left-wing/pan-Arab allies. It would also witness several massacres such as that of Tel El Zaatar, Karantina, and Damour in 1976, and Sabra and Shatila in 1982. By the time the war ended, the death toll stood at around 100,000 to 150,000, around a million would emigrate, hundreds of thousands would be displaced and anywhere between 2 and 15,000 people are still officially ‘missing’ to this day.
Ta’if, General Amnesty and the Long Decade of ‘Reconstruction’ (1990-2005)
When the civil war ended, the powers that be, under the “tutelage” of the Assad regime, scrambled to create a semblance of politics in order to promote the message that the 1990s would be the decade of reconstruction. In Beirut, this involved waves of privatizations, most notably of the historical downtown (Al-Balad, literally “the country”) which was transformed into Solidere, the private company founded by the Hariri family, which was given monopoly over reconstruction. This “actually existing neoliberalism” was sugar-coated in a language of hope, the narrative that only through business ties could the menace of civil war be kept at bay.
The 1990s saw the rise of Rafik Hariri. A relative unknown, he moved to Saudi Arabia in the 1960s and made a fortune in the construction business. He would later become a Saudi envoy to warring Lebanese factions during the civil war and, through his Saudi links as well as his relationship to the Assad regime and the West, became the leading Sunni politician of the 1990s and the country’s Prime Minister until his assassination in 2005 (with a brief exception between 1998 and 2000) which followed his increasingly anti-Assad stances. Hariri advocated what he called a return to ‘Lebanon’s former, open, liberal, and highly flexible market economy’ which he believed had been turned into ‘an archaic, over-bureaucratic, highly regulated, backward, and inward-looking economy’. The restoration of this economy was his priority, but masked within a liberal rhetoric were ‘deeply illiberal policies’. These notably included state-sanctioned transfers of property rights from previous owners to his company, Solidere. In other words, that same ‘over-bureaucratic’ government was necessary for Hariri to ‘open up’ the country and ‘the market’.
It is important here to note the historical oddity of Lebanon’s economic trajectory even prior to Hariri’s rise. What he was referring to as the pre-war status quo was in some ways accurate. Indeed, Lebanon was the only ‘laissez-faire economy in the developing world’ in the post-WWII era, which differentiated it from other developing economies in a region dominated by what was called ‘state socialism’. By the 1990s however, Hariri’s rhetoric was ‘in tune with the global neoliberal Zeitgest’ and, ironically, the post-war economy ended up less ‘liberal’ than the pre-war one. Indeed, in Kareem Pakradoumi’s words, in the 1990s “Lebanon began abandoning its liberal system as those in power mixed up the public and private sectors”, “privatized some of the public sector to serve their own interests” and “seized control of the private sector to monopolize it for themselves.” This was, in actuality, Hariri’s “illiberal reconstruction”.
But for reconstruction to happen, traces of the civil war had to be erased. In 1989, surviving warring factions signed the Ta’if Agreement which officially ended the civil war. The real end would come in 1990 with the Syrian army exiling Michel Aoun, who was then leading a rival government, in what has since been dubbed the October 13th massacre. Less than a year later, in 1991, a General Amnesty law pardoned most crimes committed during the war, undermining any real reconciliation process, and legitimizing the new sectarian geographies (cantons) and power structures that emerged from the civil war. The agreement, which called for the disarmament of militias, made an exception for Hezbollah which monopolized the role of resistance against Israeli occupation. Hezbollah was favoured by the Syrian regime and Iran and secured its monopoly as the ‘resistance’ through a series of assassinations targeting left-wing resistance figures in the 1980s who had led a popular and secular armed resistance against Israel throughout the civil war. The 1990s also saw Hezbollah’s gradual integration into the Lebanese model of governance, turning it from a revolutionary islamist organisation (1980s) to a pragmatic one (1990s, when it started participating in parliament) to the dominant political force in the country (2008-present).
Furthermore, although the Taif Agreement also mandated an end to the confessional system after a transitional period and for the creation of several laws to enable that transition, no time frame was agreed upon. Thus, the Confessional system received another lease on life and none of the laws meant to pave the way out of it have been passed.
The maintenance of the confessional system and the marriage of the private and public sectors consolidating the grip of Civil War parties on power. Each party became a vessel for the confessional group they represented. The civil war parties and their oligarchical allies – what we are calling Lebanon’s transnational warlord-oligarch class – became the hegemonic voices of their various sects. Their source of self-enrichment became corruption and embezzlement. Through their position in government they could grant their own construction companies government contracts or provide legislative cover for otherwise illegal projects. They secured positions on the boards of private banks which then bought government debt through bonds earning exorbitant interest rates.
To further secure their hold on power and push forward with the project of illiberal reconstruction, the ruling class needed to destroy any bastions of resistance. This included the union movement and its highest body the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (GCLW). The government pushed a split in the GCLW and gave licences to “shell” worker federations to influence elections and erase the militancy of labour.
With the stripping down of social security through neo-liberal policies, the ruling class also became the gatekeepers of the material well-being of their ‘subjects’, leading to a consolidation of a ‘neoliberal citizen’ defined through clientelism. Individual economic and social problems often found their ‘solution’ in respective sect/party leaders (Za’im). Those unemployed might seek the help of a Za’im who may be able to find employment in a government institution. Those who are sick might get access to a hospital or to medication. In a vicious circle, the more government services were stripped of their required funding, the more dependent individuals became on clientelism. Clientelism found itself in a vast network of party favourites at every level of government. Clerks who could, through a small bribe, expedite your driver’s license. Municipal officeholders who, for a small contribution, can approve your building permits. Official School examiners who, with some coaxing, will make sure your child passes their official exams.
The role of clientelism is an important one to understand in the context of the latest uprising. However, so is the ideological perpetuation of sectarianism through the state superstructure. Institutionalized sectarianism means that there is no common ‘civil’ law in Lebanon. Citizens from different religions cannot be legally married in the country (except through conversions), although their marriage can be recognized if taken place abroad. Personal matters such as divorces, deaths, and burials, are dealt with through religious courts funded by the state alongside official religious representatives. Each individual’s religion is still noted in the civil registry and was previously marked on nationally issued IDs which were used to identify civilians and execute them at militia checkpoints during the civil war.
This personal sectarianism is exacerbated by the lack of reconciliation after the civil war and the ever present fear of its return – a tactic skilfully used by the ruling class to supress legitimate concerns by playing the population off of each other as threats to peace. As such, sectarian social relations are reproduced intergenerationally while Lebanon’s bloody history, not taught in schools due to the inability of the ruling class to agree to a unified history curriculum, is subject to tragic or romantic interpretations. Sectarian thinking is thus made inescapable even for the most secular, making the common apologetic Lebanese phrase “I myself am not sectarian, but the system forces me to behave as one” a truism.
The forming of the March 8/March 14 Binary (2005-2011)
The year 2005 saw a rupture in the countries ‘road to recovery’. On the morning of February 14, 2005, a massive explosion killed Rafik Hariri and 21 other civilians in Beirut. Hariri became increasingly vocal against the Assad regime’s presence in the country, especially since the extension of the pro-Assad Lebanese President Emile Lahoud’s term until 2007, an extension made possible under Syrian pressure of the parliament. This led to a widespread belief that the Assad regime was behind Hariri’s assassination, likely with Hezbollah’s knowledge and even participation.
Hariri’s assasination began a string of assassinations targeting anti-Assad figures such as Samir Kassir and George Hawi, two prominent leftists with the Democratic Left Movement (Kassir was a journalist and historian while Hawi was secretary general of the Lebanese Communist Party before joining the DLM), as well as Gebran Tueni, a prominent journalist with An-Nahar, and many others. Those killed include leftwing and rightwing figures, with the only common thread being their opposition to the Syrian regime. This would go on well into the so called Arab Spring, with the assassination of anti-Assad diplomat Mohamad Chatah in December of 2013 as an example.
Syrian military presence in Lebanon was a de facto occupation—even though it was retroactively legitimized through the Taif Agreement. The occupiers practised near-complete control of Lebanon’s political life and brutally suppressed any opposition to their rule. Less than a month after the assassination, with rising anti-Assad sentiments gaining momentum, Hezbollah organised a large protest in support of the Assad regime on March the 8th. This sent a message that Hezbollah had a number of red lines not to be crossed, such as the issue of its weapons. This led to a counter-protest on March the 14th by a majority of Lebanon’s political parties as well as independents in what became known as the Cedar Revolution, which succeeded, with international political support, in expelling the Syrian regime from Lebanon. Named after these two respective dates, the March 8 and March 14 alliances were born.
The March 14 camp, aligned with the assassinated Prime Minister, presented themselves as torch bearers for Harirism wanting to establish strong state institutions and achieve justice for the murder of the PM through the International Criminal Court. The coalition included the Future Movement, founded by the PM’s son, the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), led by Walid Joumblat, whose father was assassinated by the Syrian regime during the Civil War. The coalition also included the Lebanese Forces (LF)’ Samir Geagea, at the time still imprisoned for his role during the Civil War. He would later be pardoned from his life sentence by Parliament after the March 14 block was able to secure a majority, ending his imprisonment after serving 11 years in solitary confinement.
March 8, on the other hand, consisted of parties closely aligned to Syria, such as Hezbollah and the Amal movement, whose leader Nabih Berri has, and continues to be, Speaker of Parliament since 1992. Less than a year later, on February the 6th, 2006, the FPM, one of the founding blocs of March 14, joined March 8 after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Hezbollah. As previously mentioned, Michel Aoun, the FPM’s leader, had gone into exile because of the Assad regime in 1990 and his return was made possible by the Cedar Revolution. However, following the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, the FPM believed its mission to be achieved, rationalizing the MoU with Hezbollah.
The political parties dominating the March 14 alliance make a conscious choice to side line smaller independent movements within different sects. Preferring to deal with a dichotomous relationship between 8 and 14, they helped develop an antagonistic duality that suppressed any possibility for the Cedar Revolution to open up the space for newer, more nuanced, and radical visions for the future. This had the notable side effect of providing cover for Michel Aoun to claim victimhood within the March 14 camp, which led to his MoU with Hezbollah. The FPM joining March 8 gave it a legitimacy it did not have before, as the alliance could now claim to be more inclusive of various sects (being previously almost exclusively dominated by the Shia groups Amal and, especially, Hezbollah).
A few months later, the July 2006 war broke out between Hezbollah and Israel. The resulting devastation and numerous war crimes committed by the Israeli state would also see Hezbollah’s popularity rise at unprecedented levels of approval throughout the region. After all, Hezbollah’s ‘victory’ against Israel was the first of its kind in the Arab world since Israel’s founding in 1948.
Hezbollah’s ‘honeymoon’ period would only last two years however, until the May 2008 conflict. After threats by the then March 14-dominated Lebanese government to shut down Hezbollah’s telecommunications network, Hezbollah rapidly took over large parts of Beirut and successfully defended its network by force. By doing so, it stepped out of its relative comfort zone and, for the first time since the civil war, Hezbollah displayed its full strength against other Lebanese groups instead of against Israel.
Whatever hopes for a political renewal existed in Lebanon in 2005, it quickly became clear that the Cedar Revolution’s main success has been legitimizing the participation of all Civil War parties in Lebanon’s post-war political arena, albeit across different lines of opposition.
Dodging the Arab Spring and closing ranks (2011-2019)
Although Lebanon saw some limited protests in 2011 and a small revival of the labour movement, it did not follow that of its neighbours in the region. Its relative exception is explained by the turbulent years that preceded 2011 and by the fact that Lebanon, unlike other Arab-majority countries, did not have a single leader to topple.
Following the Parliamentary election in 2009, where the March 8 coalition won a majority, tensions between the two coalitions underwent a general thawing out. Partly because of the pacification of the aspirations of the March 14 coalition, but also due to several political crises including successive failures of government cabinet formation and the creation of a new electoral law. These political disputes saw several shifts in party alliances. With the absence of a new voting law, MPs voted to unconstitutionally extend their terms in office in 2013 for 17 months, in 2014 for 31 months, and once again in 2017 for 11 months until elections were finally held under a new electoral law in 2018. These extensions were also justified as Lebanon’s president, whose term ended in May 2014, had not been replaced.
Parallel to these extensions were events happening in neighbouring Syria, events that Lebanese politicians regularly evoked to justify staying in power. But no party would come to dominate these events as much as Hezbollah which militarily intervened at the beginning of 2012 in support of Lebanon’s former occupier, the Assad regime. Hezbollah would only confirm its intervention in May of 2013 when its battle against the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the Syrian border town of Qusayr became too visible to hide. Since then, Hezbollah has been openly supporting the Assad regime and today counts as a principal reason, alongside Russia and Iran, for the regime’s continued existence. The war in Syria also negatively impacted Lebanon’s economy, growth fell from an average of 5.7% between 1995 and 2011 to 1.7% between 2011 and 2019.
In 2015, Lebanon went through a ‘garbage crisis’ when the government’s lease on the largest landfill in Lebanon ended. The crisis resulted in garbage piling up in the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon with the government using highways as temporary dumps. The ecological impact of the garbage crisis was immeasurable.
The garbage crisis sparked one of the first protest movements spearheaded by a group called YouStink. The protesters were able to stage several successful actions in the capital, including some sit-ins at government buildings and well-attended protests. Several other groups joined in the movement with varying demands including stricter accountability for government officials and the renationalization of public spaces purchased by Solidere. Participation was widespread but actions were focused in the capital, Beirut.
The YouStink movement was unable to withstand its own contradictions and was eventually suppressed, but it gave birth to a new line of political involvement in Lebanon. Soon enough, campaigns around the upcoming 2016 municipal elections and the later 2018 national elections were launched with new political parties and movements forming. Although these new movements and parties had different objectives and policies, they were united in their rejection of the ‘old guard’ political parties. These various movements ran on similar electoral lists during the 2018 elections and became known as the ‘Civil Movement’, a catch-all phrase referring to various reformist social groups, parties, and NGOs that were positioning themselves against the ruling class.
The ruling class responded to this new threat by closing ranks. Previously opposed parties ran on combined lists, collaborating to crush the burgeoning ‘Civil Movement’. They succeeded. Only one Parliamentary seat was won by the ‘Civil Movement’ while the election process was marred by reports of more than 3,600 critical electoral infractions. By defeating the Civil Movement, the political parties of 8 and 14 March proved beyond a doubt that the deep seated corruption found in Lebanese politics was not a result of one or the other party, but that it was systemic and reinforced by all the current parties who constituted the ruling class.
Although the protests around the garbage crisis in 2015 and the electoral movements in 2016 and 2018 were watershed moments, they were not the only mobilizations. A large growth of social mobilizations in Lebanon around socio/economic, labour, and political issues have been marked since 2015 which saw 324 collective actions, 468 in 2016, 419 in 2017, and 188 in 2018 where campaigning replaced other forms of collective action. In 2019, 200 mobilizations had already taken place before October 17 – a clear indication of growing discontent.
An uprising amid a collapse
Irrespective of which coalition was in power, the financial ‘strategy’ in Lebanon was always one and the same. Lending, austerity, corruption. 2019 was no different. In a bid to unlock 11.6 billion in US Dollars (USD) promised in loans and grants at the CEDRE conference in Paris a year earlier, Lebanon passed yet another austerity budget in July 2019. Shortly after the budget was passed and the extent of the budget cuts were revealed, protests and strikes broke out across the country. Retired military personnel, whose pensions went under the knife, launched protests. Teachers at the Lebanese University–the national and only public university in Lebanon–launched strike action to fight against increasingly precarious working conditions and a hiring freeze.
The government’s hiring freeze affected the whole of the public sector. Of course, these freezes only applied to regular working Lebanese. The government continued to hire through special consultancy contracts which perpetuated the regular cycle of clientelist relations between the state and private interests.
What was different this time, is that in addition to an austerity budget, Lebanon was running out of cash reserves. Lebanon, whose currency, the Lebanese Lira (LBP), has been pegged to the USD at a rate of 1,507 to the dollar since 1997, depends on USD for the importation of most consumer goods and important commodities such as wheat and fuel. The peg is maintained through currency reserves held by the Central bank. These reserves have been squeezed by a combination of a shortfall of exports, the flight of Gulf money, and ongoing debt repayments.
This shortage in USD liquidity led to local banks refusing to pay out in USD which, combined with the fact that most institutions in Lebanon demand being paid in USD because it is viewed as a stronger and more stable currency, has resulted in demand far exceeding supply and the emergence of black market for USD. This also led to strikes by gas station owners and to widespread fears of a collapse and depreciation for the Lebanese Lira.
International financial agencies affirmed these fears by consecutively downgrading Lebanon’s rating. The debt accumulated by Lebanon to rebuild it, both after the Civil War and the 2006 war with Israel, has left Lebanon ranked third when it comes to debt-to-GDP ratio, and Lebanon’s ‘strategy’ had reached the end of the runway without taking flight.
It is this combination of economic conditions and political forces that draw the fault lines of October 17. People took to the streets in a show of solidarity never before seen. Protests and reclamations of public space took place, not only in the capital, Beirut, but in all major coastal cities and smaller inland ones. The make-up of the attendees extended well beyond the intellectual and middle-class make-up of previous movements, also spreading across confessional lines.
Each city chanted in support of the others, a most unusual and inspiring occurrence considering the geographic division of Lebanon across sectarian lines. As such, a salute to another city was not just seen as comradely across geographic boundaries, but across sectarian ones as well.
The established political parties attempted to subvert the protests. Each party leader called for the participation of their supporters, while at the same time accusing other parties of ineffectiveness and unwillingness to cooperate. Protestors responded with an amazing display of popular democracy. They immediately banned the display of any party flags and even expelled several politicians and known media personalities with party affiliations from the spaces they had reclaimed.
Counter Hegemony in the Squares
The movement started with a regular act of protest: the shutting down of roads through burning tires. Usually seen as an illegitimate way to voice concerns, practiced by the lower class, the burning of tires served, this time, as a clarion call for a total mobilization across the country. Most strikingly, this included areas presumed to be under the influence of Hezbollah and their allies Amal. Even there, protests erupted and party symbols such as arches and flags used to demarcate party territory were taken down. Various party offices were also vandalized. The hegemony of parties that had secured their separate cantons was starting to weaken.
The day after these initial mobilizations, then Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, gave a televised address claiming to have heard the people. He asked for all political parties to come together to find a solution to the crisis. He attached a 72-hour deadline making his request an ultimatum. The televised address did two things. First, it was an attempt to shield the PM from the protests and place blame on other parties. Second, it was a warning to other parties, a coded message that the only thing holding the country together is the PM himself.
The 72-hour deadline proved to be invaluable to the uprising. It created a space in which the movement could crystalize. What started as makeshift roadblocks transformed into an occupation of public spaces. Tents were set up in main squares across the country. The deadline also allowed for a flurry of demands to be circulated online and on printouts handed out in protest squares. The demands were widely varied from the provision of public healthcare to the reform of social security, passing by women’s rights including allowing women to pass down their citizenship, the nationalization of banks, the lifting of bank secrecy, withholding MPs salaries, the return of beach property to its public status, the resignation of all MPs and the establishment of a transitional parliament, to name a few.
Eventually, and throughout these 72-hours, the demands were coalesced into four major themes:
- the resignation of the government, and
- the formation of a smaller body of technocratic representatives, who will
- freeze all previous politician’s assets, and
- draft a new secular electoral law in preparation for early elections.
The large protests that took place over that weekend also set a non-violent tone to the mobilization. Those who sought to damage private property were rooted out and messages of support were written on the walls and glass windows of private businesses. Human chains were also formed in front of security forces who have set up barricades at the entrances to the Parliament. The army and the security forces were thus declared “of us”. This was reinforced by people waving army flags claiming that the army as well was the victim of the rampant corruption found within the government. Pictures circulated on social media purporting to show army men holding signs in support of the uprising lamenting their inability to join in the protests. Several videos showing soldiers breaking down in tears at the sight of protests also found wide circulation. The pro-army sentiment also appeared in extreme forms with some protestors asking for the establishment of a military dictatorship.
By the end of the 72-hours deadline, the uprising had managed to occupy all major public spaces and continued to shut down major roads leading to a de-facto general strike. When the PM gave his speech, it wasn’t to resign, but to announce a reform package that included a cut to ministers’ salaries, a capital injection into housing loans which have previously been stopped, the closure of some state institutions and a reduction in the budget of others.
The reform package itself was immediately rejected by protesters who saw it as appeasement meant to replace genuine reform. A system that has done nearly nothing to improve the quality of life in three decades was not going to suddenly find the will to do so now.
In response to all this, the Army assumed its historic role and claimed neutrality saying that they will stop any act of violence against protestors and refuse to forcefully remove protestors or clear roadblocks. In reality, this proclamation was rather flexible. Although the army stopped a motorcycle convoy of government supporters from clashing with protestors the night of their announcements, at others point they did clear roads for ‘humanitarian reasons’.
In the week following the Prime Minister’s speech, a general state of civil disobedience continued, as too did the de-facto general strike. All major roads were blocked and mass attendance in the country’s squares led to a carnivalesque atmosphere with music, dancing, DJs and fireworks at night. Public squares saw a sort of life in them that had been forgotten. The streets became a school, various public squares and tents the classroom. There were daily public lectures on the economy, the constitution, history, the importance of public spaces. In these ‘classes’ you could see attempts at the creation of a new Lebanese identity away from all myths of sectarianism and reconstruction. Protests were also organized across the world by Lebanon’s diaspora communities.
Displaying signs of shock and confusion, the ruling class resorted to televised speeches to calm or cast doubt on the protests. The president, Michel Aoun, expressed willingness to negotiate with speakers for the movement. The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, in a series of speeches stood firmly against the resignation of the government. He eventually asked his supporters to withdraw from the streets while claiming that the uprising was being manipulated by foreign powers. Known TV personalities tried to draw parallels between the protests that preceded the Civil War and the current uprising, stoking fears of what may happen in the event of a political vacuum.
Every political speech was met with an outpour of people onto the streets. The speeches became fuel for protestors. On one hand, they were received as confirmations of the most prominent slogan of the uprising: “Kiloun yani Kiloun” (all of them means all of them). The insinuations that the movement was externally funded was met with ridicule, especially since it was being spearheaded by a party that openly flouts the fact that it is almost exclusively funded by Iran. As for claims that the movement threatened a return to the civil war, this was met with the slogan “you are the Civil War, and we are the popular revolution”. For many participating in the protests, the uprising signalled the end of the Civil War era, not the start of a new one.
The apparent willingness for the government to negotiate with representatives of the movement also led to the overt rejection of any sort of leadership. What reverberated through the movement is the idea that no one can speak on behalf of the uprising, and anyone claiming to do so is a fraud. This is not surprising, those involved in the organizing efforts were drawing lessons from the 2015 mobilizations which saw leaders arrested and subjected to sustained media campaigns. This rejection popularized the slogan, “the people do not negotiate, they demand”.
On October 29, the Prime Minister resigned. Hours earlier however, a large group of Amal and Hezbollah supporters rampaged through downtown Beirut, attacking everyone in their way. They set fire to protesters’ tents and to the symbol of the revolution, a clenched fist erected in the main square. Attacks on protestors in other areas also took place after the speech with acts of public vandalism and intimidation including gunfire. This happened as thousands of protesters poured into the streets to celebrate the resignation.
The resignation of the Prime Minister, while one victory, also had weakening effects for the uprising. Some protestors withdrew from the streets, seeing the resignation of the PM alone as a Sunni loss. The Prime Minister’s resignation also emboldened the President and his party supporters. His previous messaging of reform through the legal process meant that he and his party now solely occupy the mantle of reformism.
The government began promoting the rhetoric that the uprising was itself causing and exacerbating the country’s dire economic situation. Citing the uprising’s refusal to negotiate with the government, the latter gave security forces the mandate to ensure that roads remain open. There will be no more de-facto general strikes, and the absence of a labour movement meant that a genuine general strike could not be enacted.
The uprising was also struggling with some of its own contradictions. Through the rejection of any leadership, the uprising has chosen to place itself in a reactive position limited to negative demands – pushing for what they do not want instead of actively building an alternative that reflected what they wanted. Possessing veto power unfortunately assumes that mobilization is limitless, a grave miscalculation. This also disqualified the creation of structures of resistance that could be amenable to popular demands, such as revolutionary councils organised on a democratic basis.
The second contraction was found in the movement’s claim of being ‘non-political’, As such, the demand of the creation of a transitory technocratic government presented an impression that Lebanon’s problems were purely scientific. This assumption would cost the movement dearly as we shall later see.
The uprising, at this early stage, also seemed unwilling to contest other government institutions. Trusting the army’s neutrality and refusing to attack or discuss how the complex networks of clientelism and private-public conflicts of interest between politicians and banks, construction companies, universities, hospitals and media companies were going to impact the progress of the uprising. Thus, the legal routes to change were given priority instead of direct action.
The contradiction and limitations of the movement can easily be attributed to the immaturity of the forces of the ‘civil movement’ and its preoccupation with electoral politics and the absence of labour or radical institutions that can form a unified strategy. However, formulating a unified positive program also presented a risk of ‘dividing the street’, where those who do not agree with some political aims may just abandon the uprising altogether.
With these structural limitations in place, it is understandable that the uprising coalesced around negative demands through a united front while leaving the ‘political’ tasks to be dealt with after the space for it has been created. That is, after the ruling class has been set aside and a new electoral law that allows for new ‘politics’ to enter the arena.
Direct Confrontation and Banking Oligarchs
By November, banks had started enacting unofficial capital controls, limits on the amount of money individuals can withdraw from both their LBP and USD accounts. Banks also refused to transfer any money abroad except in specific circumstances. These measures, the banks claimed, were to discourage bank runs and attempt to maintain some control over the exchange rate between LBP and USD. While banks continued to exchange currencies at the official pegged rate, a parallel black-market rate developed at private exchange bureaus representing a devaluation of more than 30%.
Limitations on access to USD meant that companies could not conduct import operations. This specifically harmed fuel distributors and importers of medical equipment, pushing fuel pumps to go on strike and hospitals threatening to follow suit if access to currency was not facilitated. As all of this was happening, the Governor of the Central Bank, Riad Salameh, gave a speech reassuring the Lebanese population that the central bank will not seek a strategy of capital controls, completely ignoring the fact that capital controls were already in place and slowly tightening.
The government had also made plans to use the next parliamentary session to discuss and pass a general amnesty law. The law was cloaked as one that will forgive those who have been imprisoned and have not been charged, but the language of the legislation included financial crimes effectively signifying a blanket pardon for any politician implicated in future corruption trials. To add to this counter revolutionary fervour, the president’s party called on their supporters to attend a rally in support of the president. During that rally, the President warned of the development of “two streets”. A masked threat that protests may soon be met with counter-protests and violence.
With banks enacting unofficial capital controls, and street closures no longer an avenue for protestors to enforce a general strike, protesters started holding protests in front of government buildings, municipalities, ports, the central bank, and offices of the telecom provider OGERO. Additionally, protestors were shaming politicians in public spaces such as restaurants, shops, and at events. To name but a few examples: the previous Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was kicked out of a music event; Deputy Speaker of Parliament Elie Ferzli and Public Workers Minister Yusuf Finianos were each out of restaurants. Videos of these events made for great catharsis, with protesters using social media to ask for “reinforcements” at a specific location whenever a politician was spotted.
A coalition of left-wing activists including the Lebanese Communist Party and the Socialist Forum began organizing sit-ins at banks, occupying them until customers were able to withdraw money. They also agitated for the nationalization of banks. Confrontations between bank customers and bank employees also became more regular. Videos of these confrontations began to circulate on social media, one of the most notable ones included an axe-wielding depositor. There were also videos of customers having emotional breakdowns over their inability to feed their family, pay school tuition, or repay debts. One of such videos showed a man pouring gasoline on himself and threatening to self-immolate. A voice off camera can be heard saying “this is the communist’s fault”. In response to this increase of hostility, the union of bank employees threatened to go on strike and many banks erected iron barricades in front of their doors, an absurd look into a dystopia where even barricades have been co-opted by the structures of capitalism.
Mass protests continued to find their energy over the weekends and as responses to politicians’ televised speeches. These protests were able to delay two parliamentary meetings including one that prevented the amnesty law from being passed. Sustained pressure from the street also annulled two nominations for Prime Minister, Tripoli MP Mohammad Safadi, who owns most of the private waterfront Zeitunay Bay and has close ties to the Saudi ruling family, and Samir Khatib, an engineer with similar ties to the Hariri family and the Saudis. Both these nominations were drawn up circumventing constitutional procedures as “back room deals” among Lebanon’s political parties before consultations were even officially kicked off by parliament.
The nominations of Safadi and Khatib came after a period in which the major political parties themselves were still pushing for the return of Saad Hariri. Hariri was seen as a consensus candidate specifically by Hezbollah who thought his connections with the international community and Saudi Arabia is what is needed to save Lebanon financially and give them legitimate cover (ie, avoid further sanctions). The Lebanese Communist Party eagerly pointed out the hypocrisy of the supposedly anti-imperialist “resistance” backing the candidate most aligned with global capital.
The uprisings’ victories were not just defensive. Offensive and symbolic victories were also registered. On November 17, Melhim Khalaf, an independent candidate won the Beirut Bar Association elections. Lawyers had been playing an active role in the revolution with the formation of a defence committee established to defend protestors’ rights and help get quick releases for jailed protestors. These activities were increased under Khalaf who also personally went to police stations.
The independence of the Judiciary has consistently been a demand of the uprising, and Khalaf’s election was seen as a step in that direction. At the same time, and taking inspiration from Sudan, protestors were going about developing alternative unions and syndicates to those that have been co-opted by the state. The new Lebanese Association of Professionals which includes five associations of university professors, journalists and media workers, engineers, workers in art and culture, and medical doctors, lead the charge. The notion of rebuilding institutions away from the state was highlighted perfectly on the 22nd of November, Lebanon’s Independence Day, where the regularly held military parade was replaced by a “civil parade” with “battalions” representing mothers, professional associations, retired army personnel, mechanics, teachers, and so on. Student protests and strikes also reanimated protests by defying government orders to reopen schools and universities when there was a lull in movement.
During this period, the uprising also faced some major losses. Tightening capital controls lead to an increase in suicides and incidents of self-immolation. On the 12th of November, a protestor, Alaa Abou Fakhr, was shot and killed by an off-duty soldier in front of his wife and children. The brutality of his murder perfectly captured the sense of entitlement expressed by those with political pull or “wasta” who could afford to disregard any laws. On the 10th of December, two siblings, Abdul Rahman Kakheya and his sister Rama, were killed when the roof of their near derelict building collapsed after heavy rain. They had previously requested that the municipality renovate the building, their calls went unanswered.
Protesters also experienced further suppression from the army who was now forcefully opening roads and Hezbollah and Amal party supporters in the form of more “invasions” of protest squares around the country where tents were burnt, or through roving acts of vandalism including setting cars on fire. Any excuse was used to justify these acts of violence. Notable examples were the emergence of an old video insulting Shia clerics, and the unfortunate death of Hussein Chalhoub and Sanaa al-Jundi, who happened to be Shia, after their car hit a makeshift roadblock. After party supporters used that as an excuse to attack protestors, it turned out that the roadblock was set up by the Army to divert traffic.
With the government continuing to disregard or distort any demands put forward by the protestors, and the deteriorating economic situation, it started being clear that the push for change through legal means was not enough. Class-based rhetoric began to gain prominence along with the understanding that for this uprising to be successful, all aspects of the ruling class must be challenged.
Week of Anger and Restoration
With the proletarization of the uprising, confrontations turned to symbols of the state. A march was planned on the presidential palace, and several attempts to storm Parliament were made. Protesters resorted to breaking off pieces of marble from buildings erected during reconstruction and chucking them at Security Forces.
With an increase in such rebellious acts, TV channels, which are all owned by politicians and aligned to their respective parties, increased their denouncement of the protests. Major outlets continued to provide platforms to speakers from the main political parties with no effort made to confront or hold them to account. It was only when Lebanese Minister and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil took part in an MSNBC interview at the World Economic Forum that the Lebanese got a small and cathartic sense of accountability in an interview.
The news also acted as a major source of information for non-government actors that sought to suppress the uprising. Hezbollah and Amal supporters would track down people in Shia-majority areas who have been interviewed and who have spoken ill of the party or the party’s leaders and force them to issue video apologies, often while holding a picture of the party leader. Speaking ill of either party was often used as a justification to launch attacks on protestors and incursions into squares.
Party supporters also started to use social media to set up ambushes for protestors. In early February, protesters showed up to shame an MP having dinner in Keserwan only to find party supporters and the MPs bodyguards waiting for them. Several protesters were caught and beaten. The assailants filmed the assaults in which they asked “you are from Tripoli? What are you doing here?” alluding to the imaginary canton border separating Sunnis and Maronites that was crossed for the protestors to get from Tripoli to Keserwan. The video was met with widespread condemnation, notably by Christian supporters of the uprising, and a protest in Keserwan was organized. During the protest, the victim was carried on the shoulders of his comrades. Although that act provided a sense of restitution, the events of the previous night brought to sharp focus the fact that revolutions operate on a simple formula of territorial control and the protesters were losing the territory they had gained.
In the squares, only some tents remained. More barricades were erected to separate protesters from symbols of power, all streets leading to parliament were blocked with large concrete barriers dubbed “walls of shame”. Even online, the security forces Cybercrime unit continuously subpoenaed high-profile activists and organizers in blatant shows of intimidation.
On December 19, Hassan Diab was chosen by the government to be the next PM. The process of Diab’s nomination took the regular form of backroom deals. Protesters took to the streets once more and this time they were met with even more suppression with unrestrained use of teargas. Unlike the two previous times, protesters were unable to unseat Diab, and on the 21st of January a new government cabinet was formed. The new government was 30% smaller than the last one and consisted of ‘new faces’, politicians who were previously in the background operating as advisors, with some technocrats. The new government was presented as one that met the protestors’ second demand of having a new non-aligned and technocratic government. This placated many protestors who believed that the then-new government should be given a chance.
The new government was not able to unite the ruling class. Several major parties refused to participate in the government due to their rejection of the PM. Thus, the lion’s share of ministry portfolio allocations went to the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah who hold a majority in Parliament. The government was labelled one of ‘one colour’ representing only the March 8 coalition.
Where some commentators have presented this as a fracturing of the ruling class’ ability to practice hegemony, it should be seen as a tactic of easing things back into normalcy. A government of ‘one colour’ gives the perfect cover for a return to the rhetoric of sectarian factionalism and stoking fears of intended exclusion, easing people back into the political norm. At the same time supporters of March 14 continue to claim the revolution as theirs further delegitimizing the uprising.
Between Diab’s nomination and the formation of government, Protesters had called for a ‘week of anger’ in mid-January. This led to an uptick in civil disobedience that included blocking roads, marches, and protests in front of key government institutions. Banks were vandalized, their windows smashed in and security cameras destroyed. Confrontations also escalated in Beirut’s main square, as protestors tried to breach the barricades set up to keep them away from the parliament.
The levels of repression during those actions were at levels unseen before. There was extensive use of tear-gas many which intentionally targeted protestors’ heads, leading to the loss of eyes and many other injuries. This has been accompanied by random arrests, police beatings, and torture in prison. Protests organized in front of local jails were also dispersed by teargas and police brutality. More than 500 protestors were injured that week. For the first time since the beginning of the uprising, security forces assumed the role previously relegated to party supporters and burned down protestors’ tents themselves. It was clear that the state was taking matters into its own hands.
Following this brutal crackdown and the formation of government on January 21, 2020, the protest movement was no longer at the same level of intensity. The latitude for direct action at banks was also reduced as Security Forces began to act as personal guards for the banks that continue to illegally withhold people’s money with ever tightening restrictions. The formation of government also meant that the media could go back to its usual coverage of “real” politics. Thus, a blanket media blackout on mobilizations ensued. Mass protests, when they occurred, would happen during weekends and smaller marches took place during the week. Some ‘revolution tents’ remained erect and continued to provide new ways of organizing through popular, albeit small, councils.
The IMF, COVID-19, and the challenges ahead
The new year did not provide any reprieve to the Lebanese. The devaluation of the LBP continues to spiral. With the central bank continuing to hold on to the peg, three parallel currency markets formed. The official pegged rate, an unofficial banking rate, a still worse exchange rate, and a black-market rate. Unsurprisingly, a circle of fraud benefiting from the volatility of the currency market was revealed and included exchange brokers and a senior figure in the Lebanese Central Bank. As of writing, the LBP is trading at roughly 4,200 LBP to 1 USD, a more than 50-percent devaluation from the pegged rate leading to massive inflation and driving more Lebanese into poverty.
The government’s reaction to all of this was much of the same. In January, a new budget was passed with no major changes. In March, the government announced that it would default on paying its debts and seek the help from the IMF. In April, the government released a ‘recovery plan’ which highlighted that it would seek a further 10-billion USD in loans from the IMF. As with most IMF plans, Lebanon’s future will spell more austerity, privatization of state assets (telecom, electricity, ports), and a long depression with growth not expected to return to 2018 levels until 2043. The recovery plan also sidesteps any real measures to account for the billions lost to corruption, making the recovery plan nothing but a continuation of the cycle of corruption and its possible expansion as public assets are sold off.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic to Lebanon in March gave the government perfect cover to implement a state of emergency. The army was deployed to enforce a lockdown and used that as an opportunity to clear any remaining tents from public squares. Although the lockdown had a freezing effect on the uprising, several protests continued to take place with protesters making it clear that their choices were either death by the virus or starvation.
Protests had a vastly different dynamic to them. As during the week of anger, they directly targeted banks, broke their windows, set fire to ATMs, and firebombed the ones that were protected behind walls. The protests also saw direct confrontation with the army. An army Humvee was firebombed, and rocks were thrown at army positions. In Tripoli, a protestor was fatally shot leading to more protests in the ensuing days. Arrests and torture intensified as did the subpoenaing of media personalities.
The continuation of protests in the face of a pandemic and a military lockdown is a strong indicator that protests will re-emerge once lockdown is lifted. The question that needs to be asked is, what shape will the uprising take when it re-emerges? We offer no predictions, but rather highlight hopes and dangers.
Throughout the process of the uprising, forces within it have had to face and attempt to solve its own contradictions. New modes of organization including alternative unions and revolution tents have emerged. However, these two trends, the first infusing radical political directions and the second providing localized responses to issues, have failed to fuse into a more comprehensive structure that can guide the uprising. Their existence has been successful in proliferating an understanding of the necessity for organization and the necessity to contest all symbols of power.
In other words, although the initial phase of the uprising was able to cement the idea of “kellon yani kellon” (all of them means all of them), the resilience of the ruling class revealed to protestors that the problem is not just a number of politicians that need to be replaced. But it is the complex systems and networks that reproduce this ruling class, even in a ‘technocratic’ form, that needs to be attacked.
With the absence of an organization or coalition to undertake such attacks, it is possible that electoral politics comes back to the forefront. Both parliamentary and municipal elections are scheduled to take place in 2022, as well as the election of a new president. If actors within the uprising expect to displace the ruling class in this way or enter the polity, they are immediately faced with a set of contradictions. Why did they previously ignore offers to enter the government? If they have withdrawn faith from the government, why do they expect the government to act in good faith during elections? Especially considering the level of electoral fraud that took place in 2018. Finally, they will need to offer the people a vision that extends beyond the usual claims of being ‘non-political’. In our opinion, this is not a winning strategy as it does not develop an infrastructure of resistance that extends beyond electoral politics.
It is possible that a continuation of street confrontation leads to a further resignation and a deepening of the political crisis. Here, the ruling class’ fear mongering around the dangers of a political vacuum holds some weight. Absent the mediating function of the state there is no way of understanding how opposing parties will react, especially those like Hezbollah that are armed and possess structures of dual-power and seemingly unlimited funding. There is a real possibility that they would revert to direct power competitions that the uprising does not have the capacity to or, rightfully so, willingness to participate in.
The existence of Hezbollah is an unavoidable obstacle that the uprising will have to deal with. In 2008, as well as throughout this uprising, Hezbollah has proved its determination in maintaining the legitimacy of the state which, in turn, legitimizes their claim a monopoly over ‘resistance’ and therefore their existence in Lebanon as a state within a state.
The emergence of direct confrontation and worsening economic conditions do present an important opportunity. Although violence tends to create rifts between radicals in movements and bystanders they can also be framed in a way to elicit sympathy if violence is legitimized as defensive. Worsening economic conditions provide an easy justification for acts that are otherwise viewed as illegitimate (expropriations, confrontations with the military, acts of violence against symbols of power). The rise of umbrella organizations such as the Lebanese Association of Professionals instils hope that labour and local struggles can find unity in the creation of local defence committees and an expansion of alternative unions, both crafting a political strategy determined through democratic methods. It is up to the most radical sections of the uprising to forge such a coalition.
The success of the uprising in Lebanon will also be incomplete without challenging its chains of debt and the IMF. For this to be possible, Lebanon will need to find allies in the region and around the world, forge bonds of solidarity with them, and together, wrestle the fate of their countries back into their control. The global wave of protests that Lebanon was but a part of proves that fertile ground for such alliances exists.
Neither of these tasks are small. But it is only through the development of sustainable, democratic, and decentralized resistance that the uprising can build the resilience and power to meet its immediate needs and face down its enemies; whether this be through direct confrontation or the ballot box.
The authors would like to acknowledge the tireless efforts of activists, academics, media workers, and every protester who contributed to and amplified the voices of the uprising. It is impossible to acknowledge them all but it is worth highlighting: Megaphone.News, The Public Source, Fawra Media, Legal Agenda, Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, the Socialist Forum, Andrew Arsan, Lea Bou Khater, Rima Majed, Ziad Majed, and Fadi Bardawil.