Lebanon's new discourse since October 17

For Hezbollah, the security mentality remains the only criterion the party uses to deal with what is happening in Lebanon.
Wednesday 06/11/2019
A demonstrator sits between tents that were destroyed by Hezbollah supporters who attacked protestors in Martyr square, October 29. (DPA)
Old tactics. A demonstrator sits between tents that were destroyed by Hezbollah supporters who attacked protestors in Martyr square, October 29. (DPA)

The Lebanese have demonstrated an unprecedented ability to overcome the political discourse through which the government has, to a great extent, controlled the street.

The power equation in Lebanon has long had sectarianism as its main feature. The divisions inherent in the Lebanese system seemed to provide the people in power with a defensive shield in the face of accountability and citizens’ demands but the objective truth behind these divisions is the power alliances among the various political components of the authority

The moment the power structure feels threatened, its efficacy questioned and its rules and foundations challenged, even from the inside of the structure, it quickly regroups to preserve the mafia-like quota system that seems to justify its existence in Lebanon.

Since October 17, the Lebanese have turned against this equation. The Lebanese uprising imposed an unprecedented rhythm in political and social life, not only because it brought more than 1 million citizens into the streets but because it confused the authorities and the political class, with its radical change in political language and discourse.

Those citizens who took to the streets are still there and they have rejected the usual sectarian language and liberated themselves from narrow partisan affiliations. They are speaking a language that is unfamiliar to the pillars of power. Confused, most of the power partners preferred to keep silent and those among them who spoke seemed incapable of realising what has happened and persisted in their blindness and arrogance as to what is going on in Lebanese society.

Once again, the Lebanese national identity is redefined by the language, scene and discourse of the street. The narrow communal discourse has disappeared and replaced with one brought forth by a surprising generation of young people who, in their speech and understanding, seem light years ahead of many of the elites.

It was a discourse that reflected a great deal of responsible awareness carried by a generation that showed that Lebanon is perfectly capable of overcoming the usual sterile sectarian debate that has exhausted the country, weakened it and undermined the economy by providing exceptional protection for the corrupt power mafia and its looting of the state and public finances.

This unprecedented uprising confused the authority and took away the power of the lethal weapon it was hiding behind. To cite just one example, Gebran Bassil, the minister of Foreign Affairs and president of the Free Patriotic Movement, suddenly found himself thrown off his battle steed, namely the slogan of “Christian rights.”

With the youth uprising, the usefulness of that slogan expired and it is no longer attractive to the Christians themselves. In just a couple of days, the phrase became obsolete, wiped out by the phrase “the rights of the Lebanese citizen.”

Better yet, the whole of the Lebanese society stepped out of the box whose boundaries were set for them by the pillars of political power and into the wider national Lebanese playing field where the political authority seems unable to absorb the new rules.

Hezbollah seemed powerless -- or unwilling -- to understand the profound shift in the Lebanese consciousness expressed by the uprising. At the beginning of the uprising, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah boastfully and arrogantly issued his famous “Nos”: No to overthrowing the government and No to overthrowing the system. He considered what was happening as a positive message for the authority and now the demonstrators must go home.

When people did not respect Nasrallah's wishes, his second speech contained a more sceptical message, throwing doubts about the uprising. While he admitted that it was a spontaneous and unstructured movement, he quickly jumped to the position that the movement has become suspicious because of what he saw as external interventions that wanted to derail it.

He hinted at civil war and warned of chaos, without showing any willingness to meet the demand to replace the government of a power configuration that everyone knows he controls.

The uprising has confused Hezbollah, so the party opted to denigrate it, sometimes by questioning it, other times by considering it purely motivated by social and economic demands or simply by dismissing it as being manipulated by some political investors.

In all those characterisations, Hezbollah’s favourite conclusion was that the movement’s goal was to strike at the resistance in Lebanon. Nasrallah cited the intense diplomatic activity at the embassies in Beirut to hint in his usual style that the popular movement was suspiciously managed.

Hezbollah’s tactic is a familiar one, which it has used and abused each time it was challenged politically, socially and economically. The tactic consists of deflecting every criticism of Hezbollah as a conspiracy against the resistance.

For Hezbollah, the security mentality remains the only criterion the party uses to deal with what is happening in Lebanon. Because of the use of this sterile security mentality to brush off the profound societal changes in the country, Lebanon should expect more crises.

Nasrallah’s declarations reflect an additional failure to manage the crisis or even anticipate it. On the one hand, he resorts to his usual threats and blackmailing if the government that he protects refuses to obey his wishes, while on the other hand he demonises the protesters, showers them with threats and accuses them of treason if they do not wise up and go back home. He who lives will see.