BEIRUT (AFP) – Unprecedented nationwide protests in Lebanon entered their second week yesterday, with demonstrators defying the army to block roads and press their demand for a complete overhaul of the political system.
Sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on calls made through messaging apps, the protests have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilisation against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.
Yesterday demonstrators set up roadblocks around the capital, AFP correspondents and Lebanese media reported.
A dozen young protesters had blocked one major east-west artery, pitching tents in the middle of the road.
Sitting on the pavement with a red and white keffiyeh on his shoulders, a 30-year-old who had trained as a chef said he had been protesting since the first day.
“We’re here closing the main road to stop some movement in this country,” he said, asking not to be identified.
“People think we’re playing but we’re actually asking for our most basic rights: water, food, electricity, healthcare, pensions, medicine, schooling,” he told AFP. Embattled Prime Minister Saad Hariri has presented a package of reforms, including cutting ministerial salaries, but the rallies have continued, crippling Beirut and other major cities.
As President Michel Aoun was expected to break his silence later in the day, dozens of young protesters marched in the direction of the capital’s Martyrs’ Square chanting, “Revolution, revolution”.
Washington on Wednesday called on Lebanon’s leaders to meet the “legitimate” grievances of citizens.
More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.
Almost three decades since the end of Lebanon’s civil war, political deadlock has stymied efforts to tackle mounting economic woes compounded by the eight-year civil war in neighbouring Syria.
Protesters are asking for a new political system – which they say has been dominated by the same families for decades – and an end to corruption, as well as voicing more personal political grievances.
Blocking another street in Beirut with a dozen other young demonstrators, a 22-year-old said he had been up all night to protest corruption but also to demand his Lebanese nationality.
“I’m protesting because my mother is Lebanese and I’m not,” said the young man, who was born in Lebanon to a Palestinian-Syrian.
Thousands of people born to Lebanese mothers but foreign fathers remain unable to acquire citizenship.
“I think I have the right to have the Lebanese nationality,” he said, leaning against a motorbike parked in the middle of an intersection.
In the mountain town of Aley southeast of the capital, a dozen women and men sat cross-legged on colourful yoga mats in the middle of the grey asphalt road. Banks, schools and universities remain closed.
The protests have largely been peaceful and cheerful, with night-time gatherings turning to celebrations.