‘They’re still robbing us’: Angry Lebanese reject new government
Nearly 100 days and a new cabinet in, protests in Beirut continue to call for an end to sectarian politics.
Beirut, Lebanon – Violent demonstrations were witnessed on the streets of central Beirut as protesters gathered in the heart of the capital near the main entrance to parliament, which has been heavily fortified with barbed wire, steel gates and metal plates.
Protesters lobbed stones, firecrackers and street signs at riot police, who fired water cannons, tear gas and rubber-coated bullets in a bid to clear the area.
Security forces stood behind the fortified wall as reinforcements were sent to block demonstrators from passing through via parallel roads in the area.
Lebanon announced the formation of a new government on Tuesday following three months of political blockade. However, the protesters say the new government comprises the same people they have been rallying against since October 17.
“We want the government to work according to our needs. If not, to hell with them,” said Mohammed, a 23-year-old protester who is from Tripoli, in the country’s north, and who was present in the Beirut demonstrations.
“If anything, the old cabinet that we rallied against is slightly better than this ‘one colour’ government,” he said, using a term to describe the new cabinet backed by Hezbollah and its allies.
Protesters have been calling for sweeping reforms and a government that is led by independent technocrats and that can deal with the crippling economic crisis and widespread corruption.
Protesters reject members belonging to the current political elite, which has ruled Lebanon since the end of its civil war in 1990 and is considered responsible for the country’s economic crisis.
“They’re still stealing from us. We don’t have electricity, we don’t have hospitals, and we are starving to death,” Mohammed added.
“We’re forced to escalate, the revolution is no longer peaceful … we gave them a chance for 30 years.”
‘They’re playing with us’
Lebanon has been without an effective government since caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, under pressure from protests against state corruption and mismanagement, resigned in October.
The country’s newly appointed Prime Minister Hassan Diab pledged on Tuesday that his government “will strive to meet their [the protesters’] demands for an independent judiciary, for the recovery of embezzled funds, [and] for the fight against illegal gains”.
He also said his cabinet will adopt financial and economic methods different from those of previous governments, amid the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
But protesters insist that only a government of independent experts will have what it takes to save the country. Calls to dismantle ruling parties, which include groups that transitioned into politics since the country’s civil war, have also been a major demand of the protesters.
“It’s bullsh*t … they’re playing with us. They are the same people with different faces,” Stephanie, a 30-year-old protester, said of the new government. “People are here because they have no jobs and they’re trying to tell the government that a change if needed.
“But nothing is happening … they’re still robbing us, torturing us, [and] treating us like we don’t deserve anything good,” she said.
“When they put people like us in charge, people who really want to help us get out of this, I will go home,” added Stephanie.
Despite a heavy security presence, people chanted slogans against Prime Minister Diab. Security forces responded by firing water cannons to disperse the crowds.
“They’re here throwing water [cannons] at us and I don’t even have water at home,” Stephanie shouted in dismay.
Some protesters attempted to throw tree branches above the fence that separates them from the entrance of parliament.
Ambulances rushed to the outer roads of the protest site and sirens wailed as dozens ran to escape clouds of tear gas.
‘We’re all desperate’
In the last few months, the country’s local currency, pegged to the dollar for more than two decades, dwindled. The Lebanese pound lost more than 60 percent of its value in recent weeks on the black market.
The economy has seen no growth, and international transfers dried up in the already heavily indebted country, which relies on imports.
“This is really sad,” 25-year-old Hamza said of the current economic situation.
“We don’t deserve this. They control our jobs and our economy,” he said of the government, which he described as an “oligarchy”.
Like many young people in Lebanon, Hamza said he still hasn’t managed to finish college due to a lack of funds.
He turned around to look at the protesters throwing stones near the front lines and said: “Everyone throwing rocks right now doesn’t have money … we are all desperate.”
The violence on Wednesday resembled that from last weekend, when two days of escalation marred the mostly peaceful protests that began in October last year.
More than 460 people have been wounded in the protests. Despite the violence, many teenagers continue to take part in the protests.
Tasneem, aged 15, told Al Jazeera that she fears for her future and wants to live in a country where she feels “protected”.
“I want an education … Until now I feel like there is no future for me.”