BEIRUT — An icon of last year’s mass protests against the elite was burnt to the ground Wednesday evening as one of those elites, Saad Hariri, appeared set to be designated prime minister the next day, bringing him a step closer to reclaiming the office the uprising had forced him from nearly a year prior.
A group of men carrying the flag of Hariri’s Future Movement set light to the monument, a towering cutout image of a clenched fist in Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square, following a standoff with anti-Hariri demonstrators nearby.
Anti-establishment protesters had marched toward the former premier’s house in downtown Beirut, chanting “Saad Saad Saad, don’t dream of coming back.”
They were met by partisans of the Future Movement, who replied with their own cries of “Allah, Hariri, Tarik al-Jadideh,” in reference to a Beirut neighborhood where Hariri enjoys wide support.
On Wednesday evening, as tensions escalated, riot police and soldiers deployed to create a wall between the two groups. However, they were unable, or unwilling, to prevent the monument to the protests from going up in flames. A phoenix structure created by artist Hayat Nazer and a tent full of books were also set alight.
A young protester who gave her name as Mariam expressed her frustration at the security forces’ failure to act, desperately shouting at lines of armored men, “Where were you, where were you?”
The Internal Security Forces said it arrested four people suspected of being responsible for the arson attack. The Future Movement issued a statement denying their supporters’ involvement.
Later in the evening, after protesters were prevented from returning to the area around Hariri’s residence, they blocked traffic from driving across the Ring Bridge — a key location in the Oct. 17 uprising that protesters occupied for days on end.
Here, they directed their anger away from the nomination of Hariri in particular, and began chanting against all members of Lebanon’s entrenched political class. As cars attempted to pass, protesters implored drivers to join them, asking, “Aren’t you hungry, too?”
The Ring Bridge was the site of multiple clashes between party partisans and anti-regime protesters in the initial months of protests.
The “fist of the revolution,” another landmark, had also been a focus of contention. A previous fist was burned last November, when supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement ransacked tents and symbols of protest against the political establishment.
The replacement fist has now apparently been burned by supporters of another establishment party, that of Hariri, as he prepares to attempt the formation of a new government — fully restoring him to the position he resigned from on Oct. 29, 2019, just days into the uprising.
The three-time former premier has been the favorite to lead the next government since he declared himself a candidate earlier this month.
Yet that favored position may not translate into strength. As of Wednesday night, Hariri was believed to have secured the backing of around 54 MPs, seven short of an absolute majority. While Hariri only needs a plurality of MPs’ votes to be designated premier, incoming prime ministers almost always have an absolute majority.
MPs are set to begin naming their candidates for the premiership at the Presidential Palace from 9 a.m. Thursday morning.
If Hariri is nominated, he will then have to overcome the challenge of forming a government — an arduous task that eluded the last premier-designate, Mustapha Adib, who resigned on Sept. 26. The last time Hariri was designated, in 2018, it took him more than eight months to form a government.
In a speech earlier Wednesday, President Michel Aoun insisted that he would have a say in government formation, potentially complicating Hariri’s job.
As politicians wrangle over choosing the next prime minister, and then the shape of a new government, the country is suffering from a multitude of crises: financial collapse, surging poverty levels, a major spike in coronavirus cases and the fallout from the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion — all ingredients for popular rage and continued protests.
“You can burn the fist to ashes, but you cannot burn the revolution,” protester Firas Abu Haidar said Wednesday night. “People will rise again.”
BEIRUT — An icon of last year’s mass protests against the elite was burnt to the ground Wednesday evening as one of those elites, Saad Hariri, appeared set to be designated prime minister the next day, bringing him a step closer to reclaiming the office the uprising had forced him from nearly a year prior.A group of men carrying the flag of Hariri’s Future Movement set light to the...