One Cry from the Street in Lebanon: “This Is the Hunger Revolution”

In Zouk Mosbeh, as in many other regions, protesters braved coronavirus fears to cry out their suffering due to the unprecedented deterioration in socio-economic conditions.

“Your salary is worth only $180,” “The exchange rate is 4,500 pounds to the dollar,” or “What are you waiting for?”: the slogans of the “hunger revolution.” Photo by Michel Sayegh

“Your salary is worth only $180. What are you waiting for?” Or “Your salary = two milk cans.” The slogans brandished on banners in Zouk Mosbeh on Monday set the tone for the protest movement, which picked up again, reenergized by rampant economic deterioration. The movement had clearly calmed down since coronavirus reached Lebanon and the authorities ordered a lockdown to curb the pandemic.

Protests occurred in virtually every region, but the epicenter on Monday was in Zouk Mosbeh, where large demonstrations took place during the October 17 protests. Some 100 die-hard pro-testers gathered and, in front of them, stood an impressive number of soldiers. For hours, an endless chase pitted the demonstrators against the army, with protestors sometimes blocking the highway and other times retracting under pressure from the troops.

The protesters did not come only from Zouk Mosbeh or Kesrouan, but also from Jal el-Dib, where cars moved in convoys, as well as from Beirut and Jbeil. Most importantly, violence rose one notch compared to pre-coronavirus protests. All friendliness disappeared toward the army, which saw an increase in aggressiveness against its soldiers. “Don’t you know that your salary is no longer worth anything and is no longer enough to feed your family? Why do you agree to be used against us?” the protesters shouted regularly to the soldiers.

The scene at Zouk Mosbeh is that of a bomb ready to explode. All protesters acknowledged a rise in violence, or even claimed it. “It is now a hunger revolution,” a young man said. “And it will not stop,” said Walid, a 50-year-old man.“We no longer have the choice; I am sure the au-thorities will be surprised by the crowds who will take to the streets. It is possible to be patient in all situations, but not when it comes to hunger.”

Gina, a 25-year-old young woman who has just completed her general medical studies, ex-plained why she joined the protestors.“I have a job, that is true, but my salary is worth only $200,” she said bitterly.“And now a soldier, whose salary has similarly devalued, beats me and tells me to get out of the street!”

Serge is a 23-year-old student who funded his studies by giving sports training sessions. He is out of job and "have no safety net.”“It is inevitable that the demonstrations will resume, even if people are still afraid of coronavirus,” he said.

Johaina, in her fifties, has a shop in Zouk Mosbeh.“My store has been closed since the lock-down, but it is all the same,” she said, waving a large Lebanese flag. “In any event, I was going to sell my goods at a loss, with prices soaring and the exchange rate plummeting. Also, market prices are exorbitant! For a carton of eggs and canned cheese, I had to pay 25,000 pounds! Where will it stop?”

Mireille, a mother of three children, is worried about her family.“My son already has a degree, but what will he do with it in this country?” she asked.“Political forces have stolen and wasted everything, and want to lay hands on our deposits to compensate for the losses. Can we remain silent about that?”

“I am with them”

Roberto, a hardened demonstrator, was seized by the soldiers. In the end, he was not arrested, but he was angry. “This country does not belong to them, it belongs to us!” he screamed. Like all the other protests, he was certain that this movement is here to stay. And the protesters used their ingenuity on Monday to prove the seriousness of their intentions and to bypass the soldiers’ cordon in front of them. They escaped through the slightest breach to head toward Nahr el-Kalb and block even briefly the highway, before being called to order by the military, more or less brutally with blows raining down on them at certain times.

A boy running in front of burned containers in downtown Beirut. Photo by Joao Sousa

These multiple road blocks have significantly slowed traffic. But few motorists, already on their nerves, got angry, while many welcomed the protesters with a hand gesture or honked their horns in a sign of support. Fifteen drivers surveyed by the OLJ said they were satisfied with the resumption of the protests. “I have just returned from work, and that delay does not bother me at all,” said Jeannot, in his fifties.

“They are right,” said a young man who assured that he wanted to join the protesters on the first occasion.“No one can have food anymore.” A young mother, in a car with her children, re-sponded with a smile: “I am with them and share their grievances .”

In the face of the protesters’ determination, concerns about coronavirus seem far away. Many protesters wore masks and regularly used a hydroalcoholic solution to clean their hands, but others were less careful. But for all, the pandemic is no longer an excuse to “die of hunger,” as many of them said.

The protesters are planning for the next step. Bashir, a protestor from day one in Zouk, said the movement must continue. “It is true that in the upper echelons of power, the game of interests is in full swing,” he said.“But the concerns of the people are elsewhere. And we are committed to the independence of this protest movement.”

The Medlars of Siniora’s Garden

The protest movement was not restricted to Zouk Mosbeh. In several other parts of the country, such as Beirut, Jbeil, Naamé, Nabatiyé or Akkar, protesters tried by all means to block the main roads, which at times caused tensions with the police, deployed in large numbers. An evening demonstration took place in front of the headquarters of the Central Bank in Hamra. In down-town Beirut, a small group of protesters gathered around noon, under close surveillance of the armed forces, according to our photographer João Sousa. Minor scuffles pitted the protesters against the officers present. A little further along the Ring Expressway, protesters blocked the road by burning waste containers before being evacuated quickly by the armed forces.

In Naamé, south of the capital, the protesters also closed the highway briefly. In the southern city of Nabatiyeh, dozens of people gathered in front of the Serail, singing revolutionary songs and blocking the road, according to videos published on Akhbar al-Saha, a Facebook group.

In Sidon, some 20 young people organized a sit-in near the square of the local produce market, during which they protested against inflation and the impact of the crisis, said our correspond-ent Mountasser Abdallah. Not far away, other protesters decided to pick up seasonal medlars in a land owned by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who hails from the city and is accused of corruption. They distributed the fruits to families in the region. The young people, who called their action “stolen money restitution campaign,” said they picked 25 kilograms of medlars, worth a total of 100,000 pounds, and left a message to the former prime minister, telling him that they “deducted this sum from the $11 billion that he owes to the Lebanese people.”

Roads were also blocked in the Bekaa, and in northern Lebanon. But it was in Tripoli that pro-tests erupted in the evening, killing one young man in clashes with the army, following calls by two controversial protesters, Rabih Zein and Ahmad Bakich, for an evening rally at al-Nour Square, according to our correspondent Ornella Antar. The organizers called on people to demonstrate in front of the houses of the city's deputies and leaders, saying “come down to die.” This is a prelude to what awaits this movement.

(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 27th of April)

“Your salary is worth only $180. What are you waiting for?” Or “Your salary = two milk cans.” The slogans brandished on banners in Zouk Mosbeh on Monday set the tone for the protest movement, which picked up again, reenergized by rampant economic deterioration. The movement had clearly calmed down since coronavirus reached Lebanon and the authorities ordered a lockdown to curb the...