BEIRUT/TRIPOLI - Protesters in Lebanon came out en masse on Sunday, marking a full month of demonstrations against corruption and a host of other grievances.
But after all this time in the streets, it is not clear if demonstrators are any closer to achieving their goals as the government struggles to rebuild after Prime Minister Sa’ad al-Hariri stepped down late last month. The latest pick for prime minister, former finance minister Mohammad Safadi, said on Saturday that he does not want the job. The current leadership is too divided to form a "harmonious" cabinet, he said.
Protesters are demanding an end to corruption and better services, like electricity, water, and health care. Some decry human rights abuses or call for amnesty for political prisoners. Trapped in an economic crisis, locals say jobs are scarce and the population is rapidly becoming more poor, and more angry.
Outside of Tripoli, Lebanon's second city, demonstrators form road blocks with found items, like giant sewage pipes, cable spools and burnt tires in an attempt to pressure the government into action.
“We have been in the streets every day for a month,” said Rabia Zien, a demonstrator at a road block who once ran a juice cart. Now, he protests full-time. “The authorities are corrupt and we don’t believe they are taking care of our country.”
In Beirut, the roads to the Parliament Building are cut off by piles of razor wire, while some protesters camp out nearby and in Martyr's Square, a sight of daily rallies. In the evenings, demonstrators express their fury and celebrate what they call Lebanon’s ‘revolution' with music, marches, chants, speeches and by banging on walls and kitchenware with rocks and sticks.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has called on protesters to leave the streets and rejected calls for a purely “technocrat” government, meaning one composed of entirely non-politicians. And while he has promised reforms, crowds have been enraged by the lack of concrete responses to their key demands.
And unlike other countries that have driven out leaders with street demonstrations, Lebanese protesters are not trying to oust a single leader, but an entire system. Even if the entire government quits, it is not clear who could step in to organize the new elections the protesters are demanding.
“It will be a long process,” said Ayman Debiane, a 22-year-old who has been living in a protest camp in Marty’s Square for almost the entire month. “We don’t know if this revolution will have a positive or negative resolution. And we don’t know what is plan B.”
The month has been mostly peaceful, with the exception of sporadic clashes and the death of an activist taking part in a roadblock demonstration.
But even if the protesters demands are met, there is no guarantee the lives of the people will improve, added Rabia, a father of two who owns a grocery store near Nour Square, the heart of the demonstrations in Tripoli. Since the protests began, roadblocks, security concerns and the weakening currency has slowed his business considerably, he said.
“We don’t care who comes to power, we just want the old faces out,” he added. “But I don’t see how the situation will improve.”