BEIRUT — Amid intermittent downpours, hundreds of protesters gathered at several locations across Beirut on Sunday before joining other demonstrators in Martyrs’ Square in Downtown to mark the two-year anniversary of the Oct. 17, 2019, uprising.
Ahead of the anniversary, online activists had called on protesters to use the occasion to revive the revolution, asking people to remember the unity they had achieved when hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets in the days following Oct. 17, 2019, to demand an end to corruption and wholesale change of the country’s political class. However, turnout Sunday was lower than expected.
Acknowledging the relatively small size of the group assembled in Martyrs’ Square, Samir Skaff, an activist who was on the ground Sunday, told L’Orient Today that even if the turnout is low today, “we still believe that people will eventually feel the need to protest and to come back to the initial momentum that was spread during the first days of the October 2019 uprising.”
Other demonstrators said the country’s economic crisis, which has caused the national currency to lose more than 90 percent of its value and pushed 78 percent of the population into poverty, undoubtedly affected the turnout.
“People cannot afford transportation to go to work, how will they be able to afford coming here?,” Lebanese film director Lucien Bourjeily asked L’Orient Today, before expressing his support for the revolution. “Whoever is able to get here, should come for the revolution to take place and continue its momentum, and for the Lebanese people to gain their basic rights, including the right to transportation,” he said.
Once in Martyrs’ Square, the protesters listened to speeches and chanted revolutionary slogans, many of which were adapted from their 2019 forms to incorporate more recent demands, such as protection for Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into the Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion. The catastrophic blast killed more than 218 people, injured thousands and destroyed swathes of the capital.
Bitar’s efforts to date to bring sitting MPs and top-level officials in for questioning in the probe have failed; meanwhile, political opposition to the judge has mounted. A demonstration on Thursday organized by the political parties Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to denounce what they call the “politicization” of Bitar’s investigation ended in bloodshed when a firefight broke out as protesters moved through Beirut’s Tayyouneh neighborhood. Seven people were killed and more than 30 were wounded.
While Sunday’s Oct. 17 anniversary demonstrators had originally planned to light the “torch of the revolution” — a symbolic flame that was initially lit on the uprising’s first anniversary — in Martyrs’ Square at 6:07 p.m. — the time at which Beirut port explosion occurred — a decision was taken during the gathering to move the torch to the Beirut port and light it there.
Once at the Beirut port, the protesters sang the Lebanese national anthem and once again voiced their support for Bitar’s investigation, calling on politicians to allow the probe to take place without political interference.
Paul and Tracy Naggear, whose 3-year-old daughter died in the blast, addressed the demonstrators, saying “the Lebanese people need to know the truth, we need to know who killed our daughter and who killed the heart and soul of this city.”
Despite the small size of the gathering and the myriad crises Lebanon’s residents face, hope was nonetheless present among those assembled. “They built a country based on political affiliations for 30 years; we can build a revolution for three years and more to come. We just need to become more unified and believe in ourselves and believe in this country,” activist Rabih Zein told L’Orient Today.
BEIRUT — Amid intermittent downpours, hundreds of protesters gathered at several locations across Beirut on Sunday before joining other demonstrators in Martyrs’ Square in Downtown to mark the two-year anniversary of the Oct. 17, 2019, uprising.Ahead of the anniversary, online activists had called on protesters to use the occasion to revive the revolution, asking people to remember the unity...