Lebanon is experiencing nothing less than a revolution. It is a political revolution and a social revolution that is touching every part of Lebanese society and that is capturing the imagination of the world, but where will it go from here?
It seems that a new generation of educated and liberal-minded Lebanese people is clashing with the old corrupt system of how Lebanon is run and has been run for decades. The young people want jobs, peace, and economic opportunities, and they do not much care for the old sectarian divisions that brought Lebanon a civil war, widespread corruption, and an economic crisis. Their model is Europe and North America where people from different genders, races, religions, and sexual orientations work side by side and are judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, to borrow a phrase from Martin Luther King Junior. Like King did, the young people of Lebanon have a dream, and they are not letting it go.
It is ironic that Iran accuses the protesters of being the pawns of the US and Israel because one would be hard-pressed to find anyone among the protesters who has any sympathy or respect for U.S. President Donald Trump or the Israeli right. They are far more likely to identify with Americans who want to impeach Trump and with Israelis who want an end to the occupation.
As one Lebanese protester put it, “We are a new generation. The politicians are blaming us for partying and dancing in the streets. What do they want, for us to hold weapons and shoot like they do? We are a generation of information and knowledge. We don’t need another war in Lebanon. We just need peace and our rights to be granted.”
In a touching moment that captured hearts around the world, early in this revolution, protesters started singing Baby Shark to a toddler who was scared. The Lebanese protesters are not following any leader or party, they are non-sectarian, and they have support from across the country. In late October, they formed a human chain from one end of the country to the other to prove their point.
Even the young people who are in the Lebanese army are emotionally part of the movement for a new Lebanon. Soldiers became emotional and some of them cried when they were put in a position of having to control crowds of protesters.
In a country where homosexuality is still a crime punishable with incarceration, the protesters even lend their support to gay rights. As reported in Time, a female protester denounced “sexism and the patriarchy before tackling a more controversial subject in Lebanon”. “We want to topple homophobia; it must go,” she sang. Time reports that “The crowd echoed her enthusiastically.”
Young Lebanese women have been an important part of this revolution from the start. As reported in The Independent, “One of the most enduring images of the protests was taken on the first night, during a scuffle between a cabinet minister’s bodyguards and protesters. As one of the guards brandished a gun, a woman named Malak Alaywe delivered a swift kick to his groin”.
But it seems that not all Lebanese protesters are peaceful or liberal. Although those are likely a small minority, they apparently still exist as was demonstrated by an apparent burning of the US and Israeli flags on October 21, although the source of this news item (Iranian media) is typically untrustworthy and could have fabricated this story to divide the protesters. If this was the case, it did not succeed.
The Lebanese protesters are still united and want all their political leaders to step down, including President Michel Aoun, a Christian ally of Hezbollah, who in a moment that demonstrated how little control he has left, told the protesters that they should leave the country if they don’t like it.
The Lebanese protests that have been going on for a month have seen little violence so far, but this could change dramatically. While the protesters have no weapons, they live in a Middle East that is still largely ruled by violence. Hezbollah, which is one of the entities they denounce, is a powerful military force that could choose at any moment to use violence to end the protests. The liberal-minded grassroots revolution could end very badly.
Even if Hezbollah does not use violence on the protesters, if the protesters’ demands result in a non-sectarian electoral system, the large Shia population of Lebanon could propel Hezbullah and its Shia ally Amal to power, in a turn of events similar to what happened in Egypt in June 2012 when the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was elected president. Or the young Shia of Lebanon could surprise us and help elect a non-sectarian government that represents the new Lebanon that most young Lebanese are yearning for.
In Lebanon, like everywhere in the Middle East, nothing is simple, and there are no simple answers. A new and better Lebanon could still come out of this revolution, or the events could go very badly, and Lebanon could go back to civil war or even to an Islamic dictatorship. While we watch the events anxiously, all we can do in the West right now is to quietly support the courageous young people of Lebanon and pray for them.