One of the images that always comes to mind while recalling the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, is that of a group of young and peaceful protesters I once read about who headed to Beirut’s infamous Green Line. Defying snipers and tenuous ceasefires, they held their humble signs and white roses to say no to the conflict that dragged on for too long and no to all those who held on to Lebanon solely as a battlefield for their selfish wars.
The cannons fell silent and decades have passed, yet new but still young and peaceful protesters defiantly remain, because in essence Lebanon’s political landscape and dynamics has not really changed at all since.
Following the car bomb assassination of the head of the Internal Security Forces’ Intelligence Branch Wissam Al Hassan on October 19, along with eight innocent civilians in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighborhood, around one thousand Lebanese took to the same Achrafieh streets on a White March on the evening of Thursday October 25. All dressed in white t-shirts, participants walked from Martyrs Square to Sassine Square – ground zero of the latest explosion – to denounce violence and say no to the same political and confessional system accomplice to the ongoing violence of recent years.
“The White March on Thursday exceeded all my expectations,” said Nadine Moawad prominent socio-political activist and one of the organizers of the march. “There were more people than I had anticipated despite the fear and intimidation that had surrounded the preparations. The energy was beautiful, such a spontaneous show of solidarity and unity amidst all the tragedy and political opportunism,” she said.
It is true that such displays against Lebanon’s political system are not new. As witnessed in the past years, a variety of movements have risen calling for an end to a sectarian, confessional, feudal and often family-based system that has brought nothing to Lebanon but wars and tears, bloodshed and corruption, constantly stirring the country away from being a merit-based, just, stable and prosperous democracy. More importantly, younger voices have called for the urgency to free the current political discourse from the shackles of so-called March 8 and March 14, often shaky and questionable alliances themselves. Sadly, however, what usually starts with passionate discourse and significant following, losses steam after weak follow-up, lack of leadership, objectives too general to achieve, as well as the inability to gain popularity beyond the generally young, secular and well-educated.
In the aftermath of the recent tragic events, similar denunciations of the status quo and the desperate need for deep-rooted change have risen. If social media can provide any indication of public sentiment, new groups have sprung on Facebook (including “Enough 14 and 8!” and “Badeel 2013 – The Independent Campaign for Parliament”), joining others such as “Lebanon: Change 2013,” “The Lebanese White Revolution” and well-established and disseminated “Take Back Parliament,” with nearly 3000 likes. All hold dear to one common desire: the need to break the vicious circle of traditional Lebanese politics and promote new blood, new alternatives and a reason to keep hope alive.
“Take Back Parliament is one of many initiatives that seek to address political change through the elections,” Moawad notes, also one of the people behind this initiative, “working on building a cross-country political platform based on people’s needs and demands, regardless of sect or region or family.”
Whether recently formed groups will suffer from the same fate of others before them, becoming mere public platforms to express anger with little chance of implanting real change on the ground remains to be seen. The same challenges of previous groups remain and civil society must learn from past obstacles and mistakes and organize to envision a realistic action plan accordingly. At the same time, what should now work towards their advantage is the current discontent that seems to be growing, as well as the upcoming 2013 parliamentary elections, which if they take place, will provide an outlet for people to translate their discontent into rejection of those who claim to be genuine political leaders working for the public good. Even if new faces do not make it into the decision-making process now, they will eventually, and the precedent will be set so that not only “political families” or inheritors of political authority have a monopoly on running the country. Some people will argue that there can be no deep-rooted change without major systemic transformations beyond the control of the common man, so to speak, most notably the developments in Syria and leveling the local political playing field, i.e. Hizballah’s disarmament. Yet, we cannot keep on waiting for any such variables to change to face and begin solving our problems.
Even though it may be true that so long as March 8 or March 14 monopolize the political game, no square in Beirut will ever become Tahrir Square, we cannot remain silent and loose the existing and growing momentum for change. Breaking a political system that is so entrenched in Lebanon’s history and social fabric was never meant to be easy, but work in this direction has to start somehow, somewhere. Otherwise, we will only have ourselves to blame.