Thowra! Revolution cometh..(maybe)

22 Mar

For the last three weeks the number of people gathered outside Beirut’s Sanayeh Gardens has been growing.  Every day when I walk past a new face is handing out leaflets; another sign has sprung up; more and more passers-by are stopping to see what it’s all about.  The answer? The site is home to Lebanon’s newest cause, anti-sectarian politics.

Under the current system, the President of Lebanon has to be Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister Sunni and the Parliament Speaker Shi’a.  With revolutionary movements spreading across the Arab world, the Lebanese are keen to improve their own faulty system.  Discontent has been increasing with Lebanon’s political situation – never in any case stable – since mid-January, when Hezbollah forced the collapse of Sa’ad Hariri’s government.  For the last two months, Prime Minister designate Najib Mikati has been trying to form a government of his own; no one knows how long this process will take.  Yesterday Sot Libnan (Voice of Lebanon) radio station broadcast Assem Aaraji  stating that Mikati would resign as PM before ever beginning his position properly.  Who knows.  Regardless of whether or not he succeeds, more and more people are calling for a complete change of the political system.  More specifically, they are calling for a “thowra”: a revolution.

The camp outside Sanayeh Gardens, where the Interior Ministry is based, is not just a gathering point.  Protesters have been eating there, working there, sleeping there.  And organising, fervently.  On Sunday, one week after the March 14 coalition held their gathering in Martyr’s Square, a mass anti-sectarianism rally took place across Beirut.  It had been well-publicised beforehand, with the Sanayeh campers trying to rally the public to their cause as much as possible, handing out fliers and talking to press.  In the days leading up to Sunday you couldn’t be in a traffic jam in Beirut without someone tapping at the window and handing out a leaflet.

Nevertheless it wasn’t clear until the day itself how well attended the rally would be.  Lebanon’s anti-sectarian movement has been around for years; only now is its appeal significantly widening.  There was also the fact that the rally was in fact a full-on march from Sassine to Sanayeh – a challenge for any Lebanese who likes Sunday lunches and grumbles at walking from the valet parkspot to the door of a restaurant.  But the turnout was beyond what anybody anticipated.  Thousands attended.

Whether the people’s voice will be heeded remains to be seen; but if desire is anything to go by, change in Lebanon might just be on the way.  My fingers are crossed.

Phone pics following…


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