The mass protests will go down in history as the first time the working class in Lebanon has come together in solidarity despite differences in sect and demographic, Jana Nakhal, an urban planner and Central Committee member of the Lebanese Communist Party, told Radio Sputnik’s By Any Means Necessary Monday.
The unrest in Lebanon began five days ago in response to the government’s attempt to impose taxes on tobacco and internet calls through messaging apps like WhatsApp. However, the protests have since evolved into a call for the resignation of government officials and the transfer of power to a council of judges until new elections can be held.
“These protests are about neoliberal policies, austerity measures, the [International Monetary Fund] IMF policies in general which have been straining the state of this country since the end of the civil war in the ‘90s up until now,” Nakhal told hosts Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon.
“This started in the ‘90s, but in the last year, more and more destruction has been ongoing in the Lebanese economy specifically because the neoliberal policies have built the whole economy of a country … on one sector, destroying basically industry, agriculture, all forms of production and holding the whole country on banks and real estate. Because of the war in Syria, there was no tourism. There was no work for the banks and real estate anywhere. This has caused a huge hit to the sector, which is already weak. Last year, the Lebanese state organized a conference called CEDRE in Paris. This was the fourth conference of its kind with the help of the EU, the support of the IMF and the World Bank in order for the Lebanese state to be more and more indebted,” Nakhal explained.
“We came out of a civil war in 1991, supposedly came out of the war, with the $2 billion debt .. after the end of the war, in less than 30 years, the government, the Lebanese state, was successfully able to make the debt into $100 billion in a country where unemployment is rising. Around 300,000 Lebanese people are estimated to become unemployed this year in itself. The youth are leaving the country in huge numbers, because there are no jobs and no future. So, basically it is the direct cause, the CEDRE, which imposed more and more austerity measures on the state, in which the state has promised to basically privatize everything, destroy its services - which are already weak - and weaken the middle class and totally impoverish the already poor working class,” Nakhal explained.
In response to $10.2 billion in loans and $860 million in grants promised at the conference last year, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri promised to cut its deficit by 5% in the next five years, Reuters reported.
Rania Khalek, a journalist in Lebanon with “In The Now,” drew explicit links between the protests in Lebanon and those unfolding in Chile, as well as the demonstrations earlier this month in Iraq, during a Monday report from inside the protests.
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) October 21, 2019
Under pressure from mass protests against the governing elite, Hariri and other ministers drew up a package of steps over the weekend to restore the people’s confidence in the government, Sputnik reported. Under the plan, the government would decrease the salaries of current and former lawmakers and pass a law to institute an anti-corruption committee, just to name a few measures. However, that didn’t quell the protesters, who still took to the streets following Hariri’s announcement, calling for additional reforms.
“The protests are still ongoing. Even more people came down to the streets after Hariri's speech, because we can read the speech in two folds. First of all, it is a victory for us because they were forced to actually impose these changes, but most of these changes are not real; most of these changes are a camouflage of the actual neoliberal policies. But the fact that they were able to produce anything in 72 hours is very much meaningful to how strong these protests are,” Nakhal noted.
“This is the first time that 2.5 million people came down to the streets yesterday. We’re talking about a country of around 4 million people. This is the first time that we see the diversity of people joining these movements. This is the first time that we see cities, towns and villages [also participating in the protests]. Mostly what we are seeing is a certain liberation of the working class … The change this time is that there’s an uprising from within the masses and the groups and the individuals which classically and traditionally belonged to the hegemony, belonged to the sectarian, confessional political parties in power,” Nakhal said.
“The class struggle is very much alive,” Nakhal added, noting that Syrian and Palestinian refugees are also part of the mass protest movement because “everyone is suffering not only from the economic situation but from the incredibly fascist and racist government that we’ve had.”
“The beautiful - I’ve never witnessed such a thing in my life, I’ve been organizing since 2009 - the beautiful demonstrations have developed their own chants and slogans and solidarity between one region and another … This is what we have been dreaming of in Lebanon. A movement that is cross-sectarian, cross-confessional, cross-nationalist, [across] genders and which connects the working class across the regions,” Nakhal said.
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