‘Not afraid of change,’ Lebanese youth denounce sectarianism, corruption

The protesters want an independent cabinet of technocrats whom they can trust to pull Lebanon out of its economic and financial crisis and stamp out corruption.
Sunday 24/11/2019
Looking to the future. Lebanese demonstrators take part in a civilian Independence Day parade in Beirut’s Martyr Square, November 22. (AFP)
Looking to the future. Lebanese demonstrators take part in a civilian Independence Day parade in Beirut’s Martyr Square, November 22. (AFP)

BEIRUT - They have powered anti-government protests in Lebanon for more than a month, forced the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, blocked parliament and introduced innovative means for peaceful demonstrations. The Lebanese millennial generation is the heart of the persisting revolution.

Lebanon’s parliament was blocked from its first session for two months on November 19 after protesters prevented lawmakers from reaching the building. Authorities announced the session had been postponed indefinitely.

“How are they having a session and not responding to the people? Those who are in the session have nothing to do with us and it’s not what we asked for,” said Maria, a young protester.

Young Lebanese, born after the civil war (1975-90) and commonly known as millennials, are on the front line of protests demanding an overhaul of Lebanon’s sectarian-based political establishment and economic reform. They accuse the ruling class of being corrupt, inefficient and the cause of Lebanon’s worst economic and financial crisis.

“The millennials who constitute the majority of Lebanese are not shaping the revolution… they are the revolution that had started in their hearts and minds way before October 17,” said Pierre Issa, secretary-general of the National Bloc party, one of the few non-sectarian parties in Lebanon.

“When the protests began, the millennials were taken lightly and seen as ridicule or utopian for seeking change. However, they passed quickly from the ridicule stage to being seen as dangerous because they started to shake the political establishment that has been entrenched for decades. Soon they will become evident,” Issa said.

“The millennials want citizenship not sectarianism; a state of law not clientelism; honesty and transparency not corruption; sovereignty instead of affiliation with foreign powers; and democracy instead of the cult of the leader and political inheritance.”

“Our generation opted for conformity (with the existing system) but the millennials are not afraid of change. They are the ones who are leading the revolt,” said Issa, 60.

“The youth are telling the politicians that the system they are clinging to is dead. The ruling class is alien to them; it does not resemble them nor represent them.”

Described as “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change,” millennials have a strong leaning towards civic responsibility and a more optimistic outlook than their forebears.

They are also the most “connected” generation of all time and the most educated.

“The new generation has transcended sectarian and political alignments. They did not experience the civil war but they inherited the warlords. They don’t understand why they have to be framed by their religion. They are aware of their rights and know that only a state of law can guarantee those rights,” said Mona Fayyad, founder of the Democratic Renewal organisation. “They are leading the revolution. We are learning from our children. This generation has no zaim (sectarian leader).”

She cited one student criticising older generations, saying: “What have you been doing for the past 30 years? Why did you accept to coexist with corruption and graft? Why did you accept to live without electricity, without water and without basic rights?”

Lebanon’s demonstrations revealed a diversity never seen before, uniting citizens from all sects, regions and religious beliefs but also age groups, including children.

Youth have been largely innovative in enhancing what takes place in the streets and squares. They write revolutionary songs and create short movies and satirical caricatures of the political elite. They then share them through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and other social media platforms.

“Unlike previous generations, the millennials have a very powerful tool in their hand that is the easy access to information,” Issa said. “Older generations tended to be recipients of information and news. The millennial generation no longer just receives information and ideas but interacts with them. In fact, they have become creators of information and ideas.”

“Every time one shares a call or a statement on social media it goes viral and the streets are packed. One blogger, for example, has 500,000 followers.”

The protesters want an independent cabinet of technocrats whom they can trust to pull Lebanon out of its economic and financial crisis and stamp out corruption.

“We have to listen to them. They are so creative in their slogans, music, drawings, decisions and actions,” Issa said.

Citing Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran, Issa added: “Our children are not ours; they are the children of life. We should not try to force them to follow us. They are the future, we are the past, they are dynamic and we are static… The day we understand this, society will develop and evolve.”

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