Middle East continues to up rise as the Lebanese and Iraqis protest against their own government for nearly a month now. Starting from October this year, citizens from both countries have taken on streets with massive protests against their respective government for being incompetent and failing to meet its citizens’ basic needs.
Ignited as a result of sheer corruption, incompetence and social injustice, the Lebanese have taken their protest against the sectarian political system to a new height now. The sectarian system goes back to 1943 as enshrined in National Pact and later reaffirmed in the Taif Accords which ended the Lebanese civil war in 1990. The Taif agreement enshrines a sect-based political system, where political authority is allocated based on the religious affiliation of the public servant. Although, the system was supposed to bring about political representation for all Lebanese religious groups and equal division of parliament seats as per the size of the population, in practicality, the system has only caused the monopolization of money for political elites. The leaders hailing from network of sectarian militias have only dominated the parliamentary politics, using their influence to control local level authorities. As such, Lebanon suffered from rampant unemployment, economic crisis and cataclysmic environment degradation. Citizens lived under deprivation of basic facilities such as electricity, water and sanitation. Major trigger for the current protest were the planned taxation on gasoline products, tobacco and online phone calls such as WhatsApp.
This is not the first time citizens have come down on-street demanding a representative government. Similar effort took place in 2005 and 2011 previously which have provided people tricks on confrontation and organizing movements under difficult circumstances. The Hariri government proposed cabinet solution to meet the public demand which was – deduction of officials’ salaries by 50%, levies large taxes on banks’ profits, and instant passing of a long-awaited 2020 budget, with a deficit of 0.6%. Despite this and followed up resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in 29th October, protesters continue to demonstrate to meet their full demands. Till date, one local party officials has been shot dead by the army in the course of protest.
Lebanese uprising have been a symbol of unity among its citizens as well as the perfect time and platform to voice against sexism patriarchy. Many interesting moments were witnessed as #Lebanonrisesup, as people were seen taking wedding vows on street, people revolting with DJ’s mix ups, people serving bike services to people in emergencies, and people singing aloud ‘Baby Shark’ to the frightened child in a car.
Alongside the Lebanon, the uprising that has been growing every day with over 300 death tolls by this mid- November is in Iraq. Two years post freeing from the war state, Iraqis have now taken on street against 16 years of corruption, unemployment and demanded for basic services like clean water. The situation is getting worse as the government has been reacting violently to the peaceful acts with tear gas and bullets.
The protests are also the broadest ever seen. Protesters are on street from Baghdad to the Shiite Muslim shrine city of Karbala and farther south. They fill central squares to sing and dance from daybreak, and face down riot police when night falls. Coming after the years long of sectarian conflict and Islamic state’s emergence, the current outbreak is seeming to be the biggest threat posed by the grassroots citizens. A new generation raised in the shadow of the U.S.-led invasion is rising, and politicians from Baghdad to Tehran have been caught on the back foot.
Women in the protests
Women of both countries have been playing significant roles even by sticking to their traditional roles. Women are seen in the street protesting, cooking food for protesters and cleaning the street post-demonstrations. While they are equally leading and coming in forefront of the protests, their participation is not limited to chanting in the protests.
In Lebanon, Fayrousa Nasr, 54, from Chouf used her small kitchen to cook for hundreds of hungry protesters. With her friends and her husband lending a hand, Nasr spent a whole night last week cooking 200 portions of mujaddara, a traditional Lebanese lentil-based dish. “I have this spirit to help others. I never feel tired because of the joy that it brings me to help. I do this for Lebanon,” she said, “With the help of her sister, she also bought tents for protesters occupying the streets in the October chill. “Tomorrow I will bring soup to the protesters, it can warm them up and give them vitamins.”
The anti-government uprisings have also been a platform to voice for gender equality and feminism. Women in Beirut were seen chanting “Oh patriarchal powers, women’s rights are not a footnote”. The issues of sexual harassment and overall patriarchy have been widely raised in both countries. There were some media reports trivializing women’s effort by describing them as ‘pretty faces’ in the crowds in order to discourage women activists and journalists. However, the uprising still continues and women’s voices continue to get stronger. It is a matter of time to see where the uprising leads the fate of the countries and regional systems in a whole but one thing is for sure, women have a role in the changes.