Two years ago, Beirut’s streets swelled with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of citizens. These people were of different communal affiliations, social backgrounds, political dispositions, sects, and religions.
United under the dream of creating a new Lebanon, they were inspired by the idea of a country that represents them. A country which represents their generosity, their love for life, their talents, and their passion for what they hold dear.
It began on October 17, 2019, with hopes for change, reform and dignity. The people wanted to be assured of basic human rights and liberation from old, traditional, incompetent, criminal parties, who had been in power for 30 years and yet still achieved little.
Today, strolling through the streets and squares, all you see is emptiness, everywhere. Markets with no merchants or customers, offices with no occupants, and storefronts with no stores or shopkeepers. A parliament with no legislators is hidden behind the barriers.
Lebanon suffers through its worst catastrophe since the Civil War. Life savings were wiped out. Then prices rose. Gasoline became hard to find. Electricity went out, and diesel for generators became scarce. Lines of communication within Lebanon and with the outside world were cast into doubt. Bread lines formed. And now water itself is in question.
Amidst this desperate situation, small is the amount of people protesting and demanding change.
October Revolution: Hotshot or Failure?
According to previous research done by Ramzi Abou Ismail, Political Psychologist, and Doctoral Researcher at University of Kent, it is found that political efficacy in Lebanon is perceived to be low, which means that the norm is that people think that they cannot bring any political change, and this certainly influences how people behave.
When the reasons behind this low political efficacy had been brought to discussion; Abou Ismail has highlighted the following. While the first protest started because WhatsApp introduced taxes, there are multiple factors that might have contributed to the 17th of October, some of which can be explained by the need to react, or the need to express reactiveness and emotion. By which it confirms previous studies as it is common amongst people who feel they have low political efficacy, to tend to only want to express their frustration and anger, however when that is done, they go back to not acting collectively.
Lebanon is divided into 18 sects, and sect-based representation has a significant impact on the country's political structure. Today, answering the question of whether Lebanon can demand and establish a secular state appears to be becoming increasingly impossible. During the 2019 and 2020 protests, however, revolutionary talks rarely focused on these sectarian tensions in the hopes of achieving reconciliation. As stated by Abou Ismail, that common identity is something we lack in Lebanon.
He further highlighted that many of the change seekers who started the October revolution might not be protesting in the streets today, but have managed to take their thoughts and ideas into alternative groups and would rather be working on political approaches that might be less reactive and more proactive.
Citizens Behaviour Paradox
To many in Lebanon, the COVID-19 pandemic, the August 2020 Beirut explosion, and instability have all combined to create conditions worse even than during the 1975-1990 civil war. Social media is buzzing with videos showcasing crowded pubs, nightlife, restaurants filled with people partying, diners, brunch meetings, people catching up, and some behaving like they are living in utopia. But can we blame them?
There is a crisis of identity in Lebanon and there will be no easy way out of the current situation. There will be additional losses if the underlying problems are not addressed.
Corruption, the economic crisis, and established political parties are only a portion of the problem. Those who want to see change in Lebanon must learn from the leaders they are opposing. They must operate in the spaces between, understanding that their success is neither inevitable nor impossible.
Written by Yara Dally
Yara Dally is a columnist at DecipherGrey.