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On the current protests in Lebanon : When spring comes late , would it achieve more ?

category mashriq / arabia / iraq | community struggles | opinion / analysis author Sunday September 20, 2015 18:33author by mazen kamalmaz Report this post to the editors

On the current protests in Lebanon : When spring comes late , would it achieve more ?

Soon the massive upheaval , that swept the middle east since late 2010 , was contained or even turned into devastating conflicts between competing authoritarian forces .. That wave spared Lebanon , which is ruled since the departure of Syrian ( read : Assad ' ) troops in 2005 by an elite divided between the pro-Iranian regime : 8 march camp , headed by "Shia'a" Hezbollah ; and pro-Saudi regime : 14 march , headed by the "Sunni" Hariri oligarch .. Religious sectarianism is very strong in Lebanon , and local sectarian elites enjoyed undisputed influence upon the masses for long time , till nowadays .. This sectarianism was responsible for several eruptions of civil violence among different sects since 1860 .. In 1860 , local Durzi landlords used sectarianism to mobilize their peasants against the revolting Maronite peasants , who were double exploited by those landlords ; this ended in a wide massacres against Christians , some targeted Muslims or Druzes themselves ; that reached more tolerable cities like Damascus itself , under the patronage of the ruling Ottomans .. Western powers soon intervened "to protect" local Christians , the result was "great Lebanon" autonomous region under the direct rule of a Maronite landlord with nominal attachment to the Ottoman government .. This tradition , and tension , continued under French mandate 1920 - 1946 , and the "government" of independence that created the formula of dividing the three positions of presidencies among the three major sects : the president of the republic to be a Maronite , of the government a Sunni , and a shii'a for the parliament .. The Muslim part of this elite felt marginalized and sought more representation and influence , that was at the root of 1958 minor civil war , and the later devastating one in 1975 - 1990 .. That war was ended by a mutual agreement between US administration and Assad' regime , to re-unite the country under the sole influence of Assad .... Despite prosecution of some christian sectarian leaders by the new regime , local elite became very soon accustomed to the rules of Assad , the new master ; and shared the fruits of the new regime with senior Assad government and security officers .. This lasted till 2005 .. A dispute between prime minister Hariri and the young dictator of Damascus , Bashar Al Assad ; ended in the assassination of the first .. Under the shock of the incident , big numbers of Sunnis and Christians took to the streets , it was the first serious challenge of Assad grip in decades .. The angry elite , feeling strong enough due to the wide popular anger against Syrian military presence , and to the foreign support from western and arabian or presian gulf governments managed to force Assad out of Lebanon .. Pro-Assad local agents , especially Hezbollah : that was a double Iranian -Syrian local agent which was used by both to resist Israeli aggression at first then as the most useful card in the tense and difficult relations with Israel and US ; felt threatened by these developments , and started to fight for more influence in the government .. The country entered in a long cold sectarian war among the two camps , which was about to became violent in several occasions .. The government was tactically divided among the two competing camps with all the privileges assigned to it .. But the escalating conflict within the ruling elite combined with the greed of this elite had very bad consequences on the old exhausting infrastructure of the country .. Crises ensued ... The chronic problem of low wages of government' employees mobilized them in a series of actions and minor strikes .. The last crisis one was that of removing the garbage from the streets .. The old contract with the company that was doing the business for 20 years expired .. As this company was owned by Hariri , the renewal of the contract was an opportunity to re-divide the profits .. Hariri refused .. And piles of garbage filled the streets of Lebanon .. Activists decided to react , they took to the streets .. The first protest was harshly suppressed by government police , but this repression didn't kill the protest but turned it into a real movement and gave it more strength and popularity .. Activists managed to keep the pace of their movement and keep it away from competing sectarian camps of the elite , which gave them more credibility among the people from all sects .. In the protest of 16 th of september , police repression was very brutal .. That attack was combined with a fierce attack by the strong propaganda machine of the elite against the protest movement .. All that succeeded in one thing only : push the activists to more radical stand .. Activists decided to defy the government in the streets in a big demonstration today , 20 th of September .. Despite the reformist demands of their last statement they ended it with more radical slogan : Power , state , and wealth for the people ... The majority of the activists came from middle class , and most of them were active in local NGO's for some time .. This imitates the situation everywhere in middle east .. The activists who were engaged in the protest movements that reached its peak in Arab spring' uprisings , were middle class , either in their class identity or political and social thinking .. This fact set the frame of Arab spring' revolutions .. The prevailing liberal ( even neo-liberal sometimes : right - wing "libertarianism" ) of the core part of the activists was due to this fact .. That does'n't mean that lower classes didn't participate .. But those who represent the widest current in the movement or claimed its leadership or representation were mainly middle class .. That was seen also in Thaiamemen square protests - 1989 , when students claimed the leadership of the movement and asked workers to follow ... Even in the Lebanese movement there were tensions between middle class activists ( leaders ) and those who came from poor neighborhoods .. That doesn't mean to underestimate the potential or the libertarian-ism of middle class activists , especially the youngest ones and the students ; but this is very important to understand their limits also .. On the other side : Lower classes , less represented , educated , politically experienced or organized ; ended in supporting Islamists , especially Salafists , who were very active in poor neighborhoods since long time , since neo-liberal official policies meant to leave these neighborhoods to their own fate and misery .. Salafists , properly financed by their masters in local social elite or by their Saudi counterparts , offered significant help to alleviate the misery of the poorest , and with it they indoctrinated them with rigid teachings ; turning these neighborhoods into their strongholds .. Salfists themselves were later divided between the ISIS' insurrectionists and the "salvage army" - like moderates who followed "moderate" scholars , who cooperate with the state and its repressive agencies ( today , Salafists constitute an important part of the pro- SISI camp in Egypt ; in Lebanon they were divided between some militant groups and the pro-Hariri imams and scholars ) .. Considering its reformist agenda ( fighting corruption ) and its class content , one can soon feel skepticism about the future of escalating protest movement in Lebanon .. But there is something different here that might lead to different results : more radicalization of the movement maybe .. When analyzing 1848's revolutions , Anarchist George Woodcock noticed that there were two types of 1848' revolutions : the majority which took place against a very repressive and authoritarian regimes , and the french type which was more proletarian and class conscious .. The bourgeoisie was already ruling in France .. So the revolt was not only to strengthen its grip over the state , but also to defy it , as Parisian workers did in July uprising .. In Lebanon , the ruling elite practices its hegemony through representative democracy .. In contrast to their neighbors , Lebanese people are used to elections , high degree of freedom of expression , compared to what their neighbors enjoy .. This could have a double effect : that any real change imposed from bellow must go beyond such basic "liberties" , or it could be used by the propaganda machine of the Establishment to convince people of the "benefits" of the prevailing system , despite its rotten corruption .. The marginalized in Lebanon were trying to fight back against the system since long time .. As their situation became more desperate they started to mobilize ... But to little effect only till now .. The majority of workers work in government departments .. They are ill-paid .. They supported the initiatives of the independent Syndicalist cooperating commission to increase their wages , but could get only minor increases .. Government was always successful in containing such struggles and forcing people to retreat .. The coming demonstration ( today ) could break this successful record .. But then , to where ? ... Personally , which could be very untrue , I think that the fate of recent protest wave depends on initiating the self-action and self-organization of lower classes , especially workers and unemployed .. This only can be the base for a more radical and libertarian alternative to the status qua .. Could this happen ? If Arab spring could be considered as 1848 or 1905 type of revolutions , their main lesson or experience should be masses' self-organization during the first days of their uprisings , when police forces withdrew or defeated in the streets and public squares .. Then the masses occupied , organized and protected the whole social space by themselves only , through grass root organs ( what was called popular committees , later these were called coordinating committees in the first popular period of the Syrian revolution ) .. Highlighting those experiences and building on them , as I think , could decide the last outcome of the ongoing protests in Lebanon , and tomorrow's ones everywhere

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