The harassment of politicians in public places in Lebanon : a new and uncontrollable phenomenon

Public figures are speaking out against this recent type of protest, declaring that they are not planning on altering their way of life. One activist is calling on them to listen to the message that the protesters are sending their way.

Former Prime Minister Fuad Siniora was booed for a whole hour at AUB on December 15. Photo DR / archives

It all started with a reaction to the presence of former Prime Minister Fuad Siniora at a Christmas concert at AUB, when he was booed by the public and had to leave the premises. Then it was the turn of former deputy Ahmad Fatfat, who was giving a political lecture in a closed door meeting in Tripoli. He was driven out by demonstrators who arrived and began shouting slogans against the political ruling class. On Sunday evening, Elie Ferzli, Deputy Speaker of the House, paid the price of the unexpected arrival of a group of protesters at a restaurant in Gemmayzeh, where he was having dinner. He also had to leave in the face of loud booing. Amateur videos of the three different incidents went viral on social media, and became hot topics. Have all politicians become persona non grata in the public and social arena since the October 17 uprising? How much are these notorious public figures going to be affected by these repeated demonstrations of public disapproval?

Asked by L'Orient-Le Jour about this incident Mr. Ferzli replied: "Is the aggression limited to politicians? How about the ones that all the citizens are being subjected to, such as road closures, burning of tires, vandalizing banks, etc.?"

The MP said the protestors who booed him in the restaurant in Gemmayzeh “did not address me directly. They were shouting “Revolution”, and chanting the slogan “All of them means all of them”. What worried me and pushed me to leave -I had finished dinner by then-, was the anger of the other customers. One of them, whom I didn’t know, stood up and threatened to throw a plate at the group’s leader."

Ferzli says that he fully understands the demands and motivations behind "the early days of the revolution; the one that was expressing the rightful demands that we all agreed on and acknowledged as our own." But for him, "these acts have nothing to do with these demands, and it should not get to the point of insults that undermine dignity". He says he is convinced that "soon these acts will be not be permitted", without revealing how they will be stopped, or punished. He refuses to file a complaint, even though he "knows the identity of those who pushed this group to go to the restaurant", he says.

He does not consider these actions to be a sign of discontent with the political class, which continues to procrastinate by delaying the formation of a government. "Violence is not the proper method to express these grievances. We must stick to the law and suitable argument", he says. “We, more than everyone else, want a government. And our political bloc (A Strong Lebanon, of which the Free Patriotic Movement is the main component) has even asked for the revitalization of the caretaker government (for current affairs). But I am scared for the country and for the street protests because of the potential chaos. The revolt has also succeeded in creating a pressure to support all the claims. For my part, I can differentiate between the claims that I fully support, and the actions that can harm the protestors.” From now on, will he be worried about showing his face in public? "I have been the target of three assassination attempts in my life, and that did not scare me", he says.

"The revolution was celebrated and admired because of its civilized nature "

MP Eddy Maaluf (FPM, Metn), who was asked by L’OLJ to comment on these incidents, said that he "did not feel that this was a general trend". "I personally often go out in public, and I have had no issues with it", he said. “If today I am showing some restraint, it is either in order to control expenses that have become problematic with the financial situation, or in order to be respectful of the plight of everyone around me."

Maaluf does not believe that attacking a politician who is dining at a restaurant is justifiable, or even speaking about politics during a round table. "On the one hand, I denounce the concept of generalization", he says. “We cannot put all politicians in the same basket and label them as corrupt. But on the other hand, I am worried that such actions will escalate. What will happen if one singled out person decides to react violently?"

Does he recognize that the population is discontent and fed up with the procrastination of the people in power? "This is exactly what we must denounce, and I can understand the exasperation", he said. “What I cannot really comprehend however, are the miscalculated actions."

For his part, Fadi Saad, MP of Batrun and member of the Lebanese Forces bloc -a party which resigned from the government as soon as the uprising broke out-, clearly condemns the insulting of politicians in public places. "This revolt was celebrated around the world for its civilized nature", he says. “Such actions are not up to par with this uprising, the same way as burning out ATM machines are an assault on private property. Such actions do not serve the cause of the revolutionaries, and I urge them to not endorse them. We fully understand their frustration, but revolutions require endurance", he says.

The MP is not worried about his own safety, he claims. What worries him however, is the scope of such actions. "Why attack an MP who is eating at a restaurant?” he says disapprovingly. “Do protesters want MPs to resign? We are not for the disintegration of institutions. If the revolutionaries want the reforming of the political class, then it would better to call for early elections."

"Who are they to lecture us on ethics?"

Do the activists believe that insulting and offending politicians in public spaces is legitimate? Camille Mourani, one of the early activists, says that "these actions are purely spontaneous, and that nothing has ever been pre-arranged. The fact remains that these actions are worthwhile and useful," he added. “All the politicians who have ruined the country must know that they are no longer welcome, and they need to feel the hatred that people harbor towards them. They still do not understand that we’re in a whole new phase. Proof of this is the refusal of a number of political figures to take on ministerial posts."

Camille Mourani wonders why insulting politicians is considered unacceptable, while crimes such as stealing public funds go unpunished. "Are any of these politicians in a position to lecture us on ethics?” he says. “If you look closely at what is happening around the world, you will realize that our revolution has remained very polite and peaceful."

The activist rejects the comparison between the reactions against politicians, and the attacks against banks for example, which he does not endorse, and which have weakened in intensity. "I can understand the rage of these people, but such actions are not useful. On the one hand, because the banks’ employees have nothing to do with the current situation, and on the other hand, because the banks are looking for any excuse to close down,” he said. In my opinion, these actions need to be channeled towards more meaningful targets like protests outside the Association of Banks, for example, or the demand for a capital control law, which will end discretionary decisions against depositors."

(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 9th of January)

It all started with a reaction to the presence of former Prime Minister Fuad Siniora at a Christmas concert at AUB, when he was booed by the public and had to leave the premises. Then it was the turn of former deputy Ahmad Fatfat, who was giving a political lecture in a closed door meeting in Tripoli. He was driven out by demonstrators who arrived and began shouting slogans against the political...