Lebanese protesters denounce electoral delay, beaten by security forces
By: Chloé Benoist
Published Friday, June 21, 2013
Updated at 7:00pm: Hundreds of protesters staged a sit-in in Beirut Thursday and Friday to denounce the postponement of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, and vowed to carry on their demonstration after clashes erupted with security forces.
The activists are criticizing the recent political decision to cancel elections planned for June. Parliament members had decided to push back the polls for at least a year, arguing that there was no consensus on which electoral law to follow.
Around 300 protesters gathered Thursday evening in Riad al-Solh Square near the Lebanese Parliament, chanting slogans like “MPs, go out,” “remove the MPs and replace them with donkeys” and “we won’t allow the extension.”
The demonstration briefly turned violent as protesters were blocked from reaching Nejmeh Square nearby by security officers who pushed them back, kicked them and hit them with batons. The demonstrators responded by throwing tomatoes and water bottles. According to Moawad, the altercation was contained by organizers of the demonstration after half an hour.
"We are here to express our anger and rejection of the regime," activist Nadine Moawad told Al-Akhbar on Friday. "Protesting is an exercise of democracy, and we are showing the mafia that leads the country that we resent them."
"This regime has failed," she added, saying that the protesters are demanding elections as early as possible with proportional electoral laws outside of the existing confessional system.
"The Orthodox law, the 1960 law... we reject all of their [the MPs'] discussions," Moawad said.
Another activist, Sami Halabi, said that although the demonstrators were pushing for earlier elections, their demands went beyond that and required broader change.
"Our institutions are not working," he told Al-Akhbar. "People want to see that we have a democracy, but we don't want to see the same people in power. We don't want elections for elections' sake, we want to elect people who are different."
For Moawad, the bout of violence Thursday showed the "irony" of the Lebanese security system which "can't hold down violence in Tripoli and Saida, but yet can block a public square" – in reference to recent bouts of violence in the two cities.
The demonstrators set up several tents near Riad al-Solh overnight and were still on the site Friday morning, albeit in smaller numbers and surrounded by security forces, firetrucks and barbed wire.
Moawad, who spent the night in the makeshift camp, estimated that some 50 protesters stayed overnight, and that about 100 were present on site Friday morning.
"This was not planned as a sit-in," Halabi said. "This was a very spontaneous gathering of people for a protest, and we are trying to build momentum."
— Imad Bazzi (@TrellaLB) June 21, 2013
No to the extension: Live from the sit-in in downtown Beirut.
— Mark Daher (@markdaher) June 21, 2013
— Habib Battah (@habib_b) June 21, 2013
The Lebanese Parliament website was down for at least an hour Friday afternoon, as Twitter users said that it had been hacked.
The demonstrators issued a statement on Friday detailing their demands and calling for a broader mobilization in front of the "kidnapped" parliament, "because it is the place where all the thefts from your country’s wealth have been legitimized."
Halabi told Al-Akhbar that some 300 people, including families and children, were present at the protest site at 6:30pm on Friday.
"Our statement has been delivered, and we are now here to show that we stand by it," he said.
"The atmosphere is very relaxed, not a lot of tension," Halabi added, minimizing concerns about renewed violence.
For him, statements by President Michel Sleiman on Thursday proved that the protest has some encouraging political backing.
Halabi rejected the idea that the demonstration is influenced by Syrian civil war, as certain international media outlets have implied.
"This has nothing to do with Syria," he said. "Our politicians are so blindsided by the situation in Syria, that they are not even thinking about their own people. But this is not what we are about."