The Lebanese revolution is totally winning, and here's why

The Lebanese revolution is totally winning, and here's why
6 min read
31 Jan, 2020
Comment: Carmen Geha makes the unpopular case for an uncommon sentiment: The Lebanese revolution is totally winning.
The Lebanese launched an unprecedented mass uprising against their political class on October 17 [Getty]
Three months after mass protests, a crippling financial situation, and devastating regional developments including the threat of a new world war, it is no wonder that my friends and I are finding it hard to stay positive. 

We are aware of course, as we have been for years, that what we are up against in Lebanon is not a single dictator or a monolithic regime of government. The power-sharing sectarian system is an octopus of financial interests that spreads to politicians, banks, religious courts, and foreign patrons which keep this system afloat.

Bringing down the "system" in Lebanon is more about fighting those who benefit from this system than fighting the system itself. 
Indeed for many of us, the revolution has been about what system we aspire for and deserve; a system of democracy and social justice.

Our current system, so deeply entrenched, enslaves us to the banks and to sectarian courts. Despite these facts of life and in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles - both nationally and regionally - the October revolution has managed to make more strides in just three months than any other political actor could in 30 years after the civil war ended in 1989.

And so, I would like to make the unpopular case to spread an uncommon sentiment that I think we are all missing: the Lebanese revolution is totally winning, and here's why.

The ongoing revolution has successfully challenged every pillar that has kept this existing political class in power over the last three decades.

Our current system, so deeply entrenched, enslaves us to the banks and to sectarian courts

From day one, protestors and citizens from North to South, adopted a language that clearly identified the ruling elite as enemies of the people and as corrupt warlords who have destroyed not only our economy but our natural environment and the air we breathe.

This clear identification of the challenges to our livelihoods as stemming from political corruption and incompetence defined the revolution. This is an anti-system revolution that will create systemic changes in the way we understand and experience politics. It has outlived and resisted efforts to counter it.

Politicians were betting that the protests would slip into a sectarian rhetoric and be portrayed as anti-Sunni by asking for Hariri's resignation, or anti-Shia by attacking Amal and Hezbollah as part of this system of political corruption.

Christian politicians, namely the Free Patriotic Movement championed themselves as the protectors of the Christians and tried to taint the protesters as traitors and infidels. The street replied loud and clear: this was a national outcry and we have reconciled on the street, this is against the corrupt performance of sectarian leaders, and not against sects themselves.

The ongoing revolution has successfully renewed our interest in and revived a healthy relationship with politics. Before October 2019, our relationship was that of apathy and disdain. The political elite seemed untouchable, and we felt we could never challenge their rule.

But cursing and slur words brought them down, their names forever cheapened by the repeated chants of young and old, rich and poor, men and women, not only across the country but the diaspora.

Not only did we curse them, but we also took to reading our own laws and memorising the constitution as a way out of this crisis. We suddenly realised that we have what it takes to live better, to breathe better, and to elect better.

We suddenly realised that we have what it takes to live better, to breathe better, and to elect better

They became slowly irrelevant. This is a movement that is not for or against a specific government, but a movement to challenge these layers of oppression and replace them with hopeful competent faces and names, who we see and hear suddenly everywhere - on TV, in the streets, in the classroom, and at banks.

Suddenly a political class that controlled our destiny just days before October 2019, has been washed away with the garbage of history. 

The ongoing revolution has successfully given birth to multiple platforms of confrontation with the political elite that is responsible for this situation. The sheer creativity, diversity, and perseverance of these groups is a force to reckon with.

From bad weather to rubber bullets, to tear gas exploding in our faces, the streets remain vibrant but so do the salons, the classrooms, and the spaces we thought were not ours to participate in.

New media platforms, new political groups, and new alternative unions fill the week of activities, discussions, plans and actionable aspirations for replacing these politicians with people who actually care about the future of this country.

Some of them entered the banks singing after they took our money hostage and are placing capital controls. Some of these groups write relentless political analysis giving us the chance to debate a new way of looking at this, and of holding politicians responsible for this mess. Others still are planning to run for elections, or writing new pop culture, and some are fighting the flu while they insist on holding sit-ins under the rain.

The revolution is winning in Lebanon but systemic change takes time and patience

None are based solely in the capital. And most got to know each other on the streets; a relationship so intimate and everlasting, united against the same enemy.

The revolution is winning in Lebanon but systemic change takes time and patience. This outburst of energy that started in October 2019 will be enduring, and will take different shapes and forms.

Even this current government, while strongly pro-Syria, is nominally a win for the revolution. When big names like Saad Hariri and Gebran Bassil step aside, it's a big deal, and a significant win for the revolution.

Although I am personally vehemently against these nominal gains, including a historic 30 percent representation of women in this new government, I know that the revolution cannot be co-opted and I do recognise these as attempts at nominally shutting us up.

But nobody expected that in three months we would get the government we deserve. We expect and are aware of their counter-revolutionary tactics, including bullets, tear gas, and façade governments. But we are un-co-optable, and the revolution is winning because of this moment of heightened awareness and heightened possibility for change.

Also because we were not, and are not stupid. We know exactly what we're up against in this triangle of weapons, banks, and religious courts. And slowly but surely, we've made more strides in three months, than they ever did in 30 years. 

Carmen Geha is a political activist and an Assistant Professor of Public Administration at the American University of Beirut. She specializes in research on social movements and protests, women in politics and refugee policies. 

Follow her on Twitter: @CarmenGeha

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.