LEBANON: Protest against sectarian system draws large crowds
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For the second week in a row, Lebanese took to the streets of Beirut on Sunday to protest against the country’s sectarian political system, waving Lebanese flags and chanting Egypt- and Tunisia-inspired slogans such as ‘People want to topple the regime’ and ‘Revolution.’
Some demonstrators carried signs saying ‘For the good of the country: secular democracy’ and ‘We are all equal’ while others had written ‘No to sectarianism’ on their foreheads and wrapped their heads in the flag.
Sunday’s demonstration suggested that activist calls for political change in Lebanon were gaining some ground because crowds were significantly larger than at last weekend’s rally, which was attended by hundreds.
Thousands of people of all ages marched from Beirut’s Daoura area to the city’s electricity ministry, where riot police and military were out in force. Upon arrival there protesters sang the national anthem and called for the toppling of the current government system.
Activists organized the rally using Facebook and word was also spread by word of mouth and through some media outlets, protesters told Babylon & Beyond. Some demonstrators said that they had joined the march spontaneously when they spotted it in the streets.
Lebanon is governed by a complicated and delicate power-sharing agreement, based on political confessionalism that aims to maintain a balance between the country’s 18 religious sects. The agreement has been blamed by many as being the cause of serious problems and issues this volatile Mediterranean country has witnessed over the years, including civil war, corruption and cronyism.
‘I want to change it,’ 18-year old student Saja Mortada, dressed in a jacket and head scarf, said. ‘I am tired of the stealing and corruption. I want a democratic, civil, secular state where state and religion are divided.’
None of the Lebanese political coalitions were apparently spared criticism at Sunday’s demonstration. The video above, said to have been recorded at Sunday’s demonstration, shows protesters denouncing both of Lebanon’s two rival political camps, known as the pro-Western March 14 alliance, led by Saad Hariri, and the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition.
Just like last Sunday, the end point of the march was symbolic. Some protesters see the electricity ministry, which is not able to deliver a 24-hour power supply to the country, as a beacon of the current system’s incompetence. Last weekend, the protest was staged along the old green line that separated Beirut into Muslim and Christian neighborhoods during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990.
Unemployed protester Hassan Hussein, 28, said the sectarian system hasn’t brought him much except misery and it was time for it to go.
‘I got tired of the current system that uses sectarianism to cover itself and rule us. We young Lebanese have nothing to do. They took everything and divided us. I wish that change will happen,’ he said.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Video: Demonstrators march in the streets of Beirut on Saturday to protest the country’s political sectarian system. Credit: YouTube