Socialist Worker

The rage increases in Lebanon every day

Ghassan Makarem from the Samidoun activist network in Beirut spoke to Socialist Worker about the new mood of resistance and solidarity sweeping through the city

Issue No. 2012

The streets of Beirut are becoming more and more radical, day after day. It’s still quite early days, but you can see a new movement coming together.

Young activists, environmental campaigners, human rights groups, religious organisations - they’re becoming radicalised by what’s happening.

We could tell at the beginning of last week that the whole atmosphere in Beirut was getting more political. It’s now three weeks since the refugee crisis started and the relief operations are running more smoothly. So people now have the time and energy to go to demonstrations and meetings, before going back to the relief work.

The atmosphere on the ground is leaning against the government, against the Arab regimes, against the “international community” - and for solidarity with the resistance.

There’s much more talk about solidarity nowadays and a lot more open agreement with Hizbollah. Last week there was a poll in the newspapers that showed support for Hizbollah was running at over 80 percent.

The last time anything like this happened here was in the 1970s, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation was based in Lebanon. Those ideas of radicalism and anti-imperialism are coming back. Our isolation is a problem though - we need more support from people in other Arab countries.

Of course the issues related to sectarianism, the way Lebanon’s politics and civil society are organised around religious and ethnic divisions, haven’t gone away. But at the grassroots level you don’t see any of that any more.

A new segment of young activists have now gone beyond sectarian divisions and it’s not just people from secular backgrounds, but also people who are part of religious groups.

Activists

The Samidoun network held a coordinating meeting with other relief organisations on Sunday night. Volunteers involved in the relief effort discussed what political demands we would be raising.

We agreed that we would start pressuring the government to either do more in terms of the relief effort or step aside, and we also passed policy supporting the right of Lebanon to resist the Israeli oppression.

We also agreed not to accept money from the US government for aid - a lot of refugees have already indicated that they will refuse any such aid. We’ve been telling all US aid agencies that they have to publicly condemn the Israeli aggression if they want to continue operating here.

The new mood of resistance and radical politics was out on the streets last Sunday at a huge demonstration outside a United Nations (UN) building in central Beirut.

The demonstration was called by youth factions of all the political parties, along with everyone participating in the relief effort, to protest against the planned visit to Beirut that day of US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

On Sunday morning news broke of the Israeli massacre at Qana. By noon everyone started coming to the square downtown where the protest was being held. Most of the people there were refugees or people from Beirut involved in the relief effort.

The UN building was right next to that square. When people reached the square, some of the demonstrators decided to go across to the building to protest there and to try to break in.

People are very angry with the UN. Last week their emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland accused the resistance of “hiding behind civilians”. People saw this as him handing an excuse to the Israelis to target civilians.

Rather than seriously tackling the humanitarian problems, we see the UN haggling with local politicians over logistical issues and kickbacks - people are fed up with this.

We also want to see a clear position from the UN against the Israeli aggression - and that means a security council resolution, we all know Kofi Annan’s words don’t mean anything.

The fact that Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, phoned up Rice and told her she was not welcome is significant.

Anger

The government is responding to pressure from below, but also pressure from Hizbollah and other politicians such as the speaker of the parliament.

Everyone is calling for the government to take a clear position and distance itself from the US. Some politicians, including Michael Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, are talking about the need for a “national unity government”.

But for the moment Hizbollah is reluctant to call for the government to resign - they are very careful about the Shia-Sunni divide and don’t want to be seen to be playing on sectarian issues.

We’ve also seen the right wing pro-US political forces getting marginalised. And on the ground, everyone is thinking and acting in terms of solidarity.


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