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The 2019 Lebanese Hirak: its destiny, how it ended and the reasons for it.

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The October 2019 revolution extended for several months because the protests began to renew, as was the case from January 14th until October, 2021. In general, they remained peaceful demonstrations, but most of them were confronted with violence by the security forces with the aim of quelling them. For example, the Lebanese continued protests in February and March against the deteriorating economic conditions resulting from the measures to combat Covid-19. At the same time, Hassan Diab, then Prime Minister,declared that the state was unable to repay international Eurobonds worth $1.2 billion and debts that amounted to $92 billion, i.e. 170% of GDP, and with the issue of regulations preventing citizens from withdrawing their money from banks, and the freezing of banking assets; the Lebanese went out to protest against the government's failure to interact or take any measures to save the situation.

The situation worsened with the declaration of a State of Emergency and the closure of land, sea borders and airlines, with a curfew on March 15 according to France 24. Demonstrations continued throughout April and May in defiance of precautionary measures to confront the virus. Demonstrations erupted in May in particular, against the economic reform plan proposed by the government. This plan included austerity measures extending over five years in exchange for financial aid from the International Monetary Fund amounting to about $20 billion to complete reforms in all fields with the aim of saving Lebanon from the current economic downturn it is suffering from. But in return, it will increase the suffering of the Lebanese citizens of the poor and middle classes.

The protests continued until the 4th of August, when the Beirut port explosion occurred, which was preceded by protests due to the interruption of electricity in several areas of the country, causing them to sink into darkness. Such a phenomenon that many people protested against and tried to control. This explosion killed 200 people, injured 6000, and destroyed the homes of many, leaving them homeless. And all this was caused by leaving more than 2,000 tons of aluminum nitrate preserved in an unsafe way, which eventually led to the explosion. These dire consequences led to the outbreak of protests again calling for an investigation into this issue. It is worth noting that the existing government headed by Saad Hariri was dissolved, with the latter submitting his resignation two weeks after the start of the protests in October 2019.

A new government headed by Hassan Diab was appointed. He also resigned after the explosion of the port of Beirut in August 2020. Immediately after the explosion, French president Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon, where he demanded an international investigation and the development of a political and economic reform plan with a specific time map to elect a new government, carry out the necessary reforms, and "re-establish a new charter” in exchange for France’s agreement to provide it with humanitarian aid.

This plan was delivered by the French ambassador in Beirut, and it included the following; the formation of an interim government to take charge of matters as soon as possible, and to hold legislative elections within a year, with reforms in the sectors affected by the repercussions of Covid-19. However, the set plan was not adhered to, and there was delay in forming a new government until the French president criticized the Lebanese political authority and described their pledges as "mere talk", also because of the insistence of the internal parties to adhere to the principle of sectarian division according to Amnesty organization.

According to the Lebanese Center for Studies, many differed on what this revolution achieved. On the one hand, the October movement had an important achievement on the moral and societal level; breaking down societal barriers, since it was a revolution against the corrupt ruling class that caused problems that affected all parts of society. Therefore, it is "cross-sectarian", where citizens of different sects have come down to demand the same rights and united together against political authority.

For instance, it is well known that the Shi’ite community is not open to mixing, but the revolution prompted it to integrate and accept others. The achievement also crystallizes at the tactical level, where public opinion and popular demands have become the focus of the rulers’ attention, with the Lebanese people feeling the importance of their intervention in the decision-making process. On the other hand, this revolution contributed to exposing corruption, especially in the south, which the party Hezbollah was involved in, and this was the first time that the names of political public figures were mentioned and slandered. Its other achievement is to reveal the facts of the two most important political parties in Lebanon, namely Hezbollah and the Amal movement, and to falsify their claims about the unity of the Shi’ite community in the country according to the Carnegie Center for the Middle East.

According to Nagy Bustani in Al-Nashra, the Revolution is generally considered unsuccessful for the following reasons; It basically had no leadership or centralization, so many called themselves leaders of the movement, and they were not able to properly direct the uprising. The result of this dispersion was the lack of harmony or unity in the goals and their fragmentation, the absence of a specific vision, and poor planning, which led to the impossibility of making change. The demonstrators were divided between a group that wanted to use violence and intimidation and another group that wanted a peaceful uprising, devoid of violence. It is worth noting that the use of violence against demonstrators led to a sharp decline in the number of people who wanted to go down and demonstrate. This was especially with the presence of members of political parties or supporters of them within the category of protesters, who took advantage of this situation to intimidate them and thus prevented them from descending.

Finally, the living conditions deteriorated in Lebanon by the continuation of the high prices and the inflation rate until it reached 99% with the increase in food prices and transportation prices by about 400%, and the price of basic commodities such as bread and rice, has tripled since October 2019. It was also found that 78% of the population lives below the poverty line. In 2021, the unemployment rate, also due to the repercussions of the Coronavirus, increased from 25% in 2019 to 40%. The Lebanese pound also lost 90% of its value and continued to collapse until today, until the price of the US dollar became 1500 Lebanese pounds recently.

And the explosion of the port with the presence of the COVID pandemic crisis made matters worse, as they worsened the economic situation, which was translated into increased unemployment and poverty rates among the citizens. Three governments have passed through Lebanon since the beginning of these protests. And every Prime Minister chosen failed to form a government, and this is another evidence of the revolution's inability to produce a government that could liberate itself from sectarian division and could not control matters and break the economic and political stalemate.

For example, following Hariri's resignation, the premiership in Lebanon was handed over to Hassan Diab, who had much less popularity and support according to Ain News Center. This led to popular uprisings against him, with political parties opposing his government, especially as it was accused of collusion with Hezbollah. Until it was described as "floundering” and that as long as Hezbollah and the Amal movement are still in control of power in Lebanon, there is no hope for change. Diab stumbled in forming a government, and the country continued to suffer from a government vacuum. Then, after his resignation, Mustafa Adeeb, who was also assigned to form a government, took over. He was stumbling due to some parties' adherence to the quota system and the principle of rotation, such as the Amal Movement and Hezbollah. The latter were attached to the Ministry of Finance, with some parties opposing them, such as the Future Movement party headed by Saad Hariri, especially that Hezbollah was subject to US sanctions. And this stumbling and obstruction, of course, affected any decision related to the desired reform. In particular, the French initiative, with all its possible proposals for Lebanon, which was endorsed by Emmanuel Macron, to form a “legitimate government with specific tasks and composed of an independent group” and its implementation failed after that according to el Watan News.

According to BBC News, Mustafa Adib also apologized for forming a government until Saad Hariri was invited to this task, and he continued to strive for nine months to accomplish it, except that there were quarrels and disagreements between him and President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, with the exchange of accusations between the two parties about who is disrupting the mission. In general, Hariri aimed to choose a government of specialists or technocrats so that its members do not come from political parties, which would ensure its neutrality at the local and international levels. However, Aoun's team accused Saad Hariri of wanting to take measures that would provoke public anger, such as raising support. On the other hand, Hariri accused Aoun's team of being biased towards Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement party. Although a neutral government is supposed to be formed, each party has been committed to distributing ministerial portfolios on a sectarian or partisan basis.

While Hariri tried to address the obstacle of the Shi’ite duo's assumption of the Ministry of Finance, he was exposed to another obstacle, which was the duo's requirement for a Druze minister from Walid Jumblatt's party, which means the fragmentation of ministerial portfolios to reach 20 ministries. This is with Gebran Bassil's insistence on appointing a third of the government ministers from his party, under the pretext of more representation for Christians. Hariri eventually resigned due to this clash. In general, Hezbollah is considered the main obstacle to the formation of the government, since it is allied with Gibran Bassil, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and Michel Aoun, so it can influence them. After that, businessman Najib Mikati was appointed as Prime Minister responsible for forming a government on July 26, 2021, who actually accomplished this task and formed a ministry composed of specialists in September 2021.

The October ‘19 Revolution had some benefits but could not achieve the desired goal, since no changes took place other than a deterioration of the economic situation and the existence of political differences due to the inability to form a government, which in turn led to stagnation. As Lebanon fell into a closed cycle of endless problems that were multiplied due to the repercussions of the Coronavirus and the explosion of the port respectively, and the continuation of protests in front of Parliament and government headquarters, which indicate that no positive changes have occurred, with the failure of any proposals, whether from the inside or the outside, because they could not satisfy the citizens, or because of internal parties obstructing the issues.

The roots of the problem lie in the political culture in Lebanon, meaning the set of values and principles rooted in society that determine the citizens’ view of the ruling authority, its expectations and duties towards it, and is considered the basis of the legitimacy of the existing political system. This is how the National Pact and the Taif Agreement lie in Lebanon as an essential part of the political culture. For a period of time that extends from the end of the civil war in Lebanon until before the October Revolution, it played a pivotal role in determining the shape of political life in the country.

But the 2019 Revolution caused such an earthquake in these social foundations that it almost lost its legitimacy since it was directed against the existing political system. All the reforms proposed internally, whether by Saad Hariri or Mustafa Adeeb and externally through Macron’s initiative came from the idea of forming a government Technocrats and not a government based on sectarian distribution. Therefore, the National Charter did not cause anything but governmental and administrative corruption, which led the country to hell. There are question marks about the existence of the state of Lebanon, because the term assumes the existence of central power and international sovereignty, and they are almost absent in the case of Lebanon with the governmental vacuum and the expanding Iranian influence.

Moreover, theoretically, the economic resources that are the natural resources of the state, and the state's good use of them and their proper distribution and diversification of production structures while providing legal and administrative frameworks for their employment, are among the determinants of the legitimacy of the political system. Therefore, the economic situation in Lebanon gradually deteriorated even before the October 2019 Revolution, especially with the recent problem of lack of fuel and food commodities which made the political regime lose its credibility and legitimacy and provoked popular anger against it.

Every prime minister who is appointed gets involved in failed attempts to form a government that can take immediate measures or quick solutions to calm the situation. Another evidence is the failure of government proposals such as the austerity plan that was implemented and that included the reduction of the the budget allocated to public administration and government employees in proportions, and the reduction of government spending on infrastructure and social services according to the Lebanese Center for Policy studies. The aforementioned austerity, and citizens’ lack of confidence in the government’s behavior until some of them, during Macron’s visit, asked for the return of the French mandate and not to give any financial aid to political leaders. It is worth noting that the maldistribution of economic resources is the same reason for the 2011 protests or the Arab Spring in many Arab countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, which caused the same repercussions for these countries as the speed of elite turnover.

On the other hand, the political system is defined as a network of continuous interactions and interdependence between a group of elements that compose it so that any change that takes place produces an effect on them. These interactions are what keep it alive. And there is reciprocity between the political and economic systems. It does not live in a vacuum, but in an internal environment that affects it and is affected by it, as well as the external environment surrounding it, whether its regional environment or the international community, which imposes restrictions on it.

Such is the Lebanese system in terms of the interrelationship between its social composition, its economic situation and its political culture with the political institutions represented in the political and legislative authorities, where the interaction between all of these led to popular discontent as a result of the political decisions made or decisions made in the system. And it is affected by its regional environment, such as Iran represented by Hezbollah, and it has largely caused a governmental settlement to satisfy public opinion. And the international community represented in America, which imposes sanctions on Hezbollah, and France, which requires the formation of a specific government in order for Lebanon to receive the required aid.



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