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Firmly Determined Protesters Against Political Sectarianism in Lebanon

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Protesters swept to the street in Lebanon capital Beirut
Protesters swept to the street in Lebanon capital Beirut

United in their anger, brutally efficient in their protest strategy, and with a very high resolution to change the status quo characterized by a stagnant economy, high rate of unemployment, unstable electricity, irresponsible public services and corruption.

Protesters from different walks of lives flooded the country in protest against the ruling class that came to power as a result of 15-year old war that ended in 1990. Although the anger has been brewing for some time, some events in October however forced the series of anger against the government into reality.

It started with importers bitterly complaining about a shortage of US dollars in the country’s commercial banks, which led to the pound losing value against the dollar for the first time in two decades on the newly emerged black market. Also on 14 October unprecedented wildfires swept through the country’s western mountains, and Cyprus, Greece and Jordan were called upon for help after it was revealed Lebanon’s own fire-fighting aircraft was not in a fit state to deal with the blaze due to a lack of funds.

What however broke the Camel’s back was the whooping sum of $6 (£4.50) monthly charge for using Whats App. This prompted widespread anger, and a few dozen people began protesting outside the government’s headquarters in central Beirut.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound, indexed with the US dollar for decades at about 1,500, has depreciated by about 25 percent to 2,000 Lebanese pounds, due to a dollar shortage tied to a year-long economic slowdown and a decrease in remittances from abroad.

According to world bank, Lebanon has the third-highest public debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio in the world at 150%. The youth unemployment rate has reached 37%, according to official figures, while the overall unemployment rate is 25%.

Lebanon's Economy in Crisis
Lebanon’s Economy in Crisis

Almost a third of the population now live below the poverty line.

Whether the uprising currently at its peak in Lebanon can bury the sectarian system and erect something new remains an unpredictable package to be open in upcoming developments. But one thing is sure, the relationship between people and politics will never remain the way it was before October 17, when protests broke out.

Many analysts have asserted that the key reason for the country’s dwindling economy is the sectarianism nature of the political system.

Lebanon officially recognizes 18 religious communities – four Muslim, 12 Christian, the Druze sect and Judaism.
The three main political offices are divided among the three biggest communities under an agreement from 1943 known as the National Pact.
The president must always be a Maronite Christian, the speaker of parliament must be Shia Muslim and the prime minister must be Sunni Muslim.
Parliament’s 128 seats are also divided evenly between Christians and Muslims.
It is this religious diversity that enables external powers to interfere in the country’s political affairs. A perfect testimony to this fact is seen with Iran’s backing of Lebanon’s Shia militant Hezbollah movement, actively involved in Syria’s civil war.
For some months now, Hezbollah has been a key power broker in Lebanon’s political system and has dominated the outgoing government led by Mr Hariri, the Western-backed leader of the main Sunni bloc.

For those who are familiar with the political history of the country, would take a flashback to “The National Pact” reinforced by the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the Lebanese Civil war. Since all the representatives of government represents a particular religious sects, they tend to support policies in favor of the groups each represents at the detriment of collective interest of the Country.

Anti-Sectrian slogans on a wall in Beirut
Anti-Sectrian slogans on a wall in Beirut

Many political analysts have pointed out that this current protest in the Western Asia Country is a divine moment in the history of past protests in the country, as many Lebanese have gathered together in a unified voice irrespective of their religious background to fight a common enemy.  While one is sure that the unrest will bring about a change in the political formation of the country, the kind of change that would be birth, will be left to be unraveled by the end result.

Ojo Oriyomi Ademola
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