Time of Protest - Tamirace Fakhoury in Beirut
In Lebanon, protesters are out on the streets, and it is not the ‘same old story’ about sectarianism. In fact, the people want an end to the government system that divides the nation’s elected officials according to sect. In protests that have seen streets, banks, and businesses closed for more consecutive days than the civil war ever did, the people are demanding a better system of representation. A system that reflects aspirations for a better future. Instead, as Dr Tamirace Fakhoury explains, they are burdened with a system of the past.
Dr Fakhoury, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Lebanese American University, and who currently works on Lebanon’s refugee policy, is a Co-Investigator with the Rights4Time network. She sees the current protests in a “temporal continuum,” as a system created by particular conditions. This system, she said, not only entrenched sectarianism, but created a socioeconomics of sectarianism, so that networks and systems of protection are constantly guaranteed access to government power. This system has exacerbated social and economic problems and done little to help conditions that lead to the current economic downturn.
While the government has resigned, there is no plan currently in place to meet the demands of demonstrators: for a liberalizing of policy, and for the creation of a governmental and parliamentary system that not only serves and is responsive to the people, but that can be held accountable. Demonstrators, who have no one leader or group, and instead represent a huge cross section of society in Lebanon, want their social, not their sectarian needs met.
It is time to take a longer view on Lebanon, from both within and outside.
Not only is change an opportunity to better serve Lebanese nationals, Fakhory explained, but it also marks an important opportunity for the refugee community. Currently used as a scapegoat to postpone action on internal issues, if the aims of the protesters are met, then there is a real opportunity to hold the government accountable to its promises. Where in October 2011 the government had declared borders open for Syrian refugees, it later reversed the decision as tides changed in the Syria crisis and even pushed for refugees to return home despite ongoing violence. A Lebanon responsive to its people and accountable to government promises, Fakhoury said, would help ensure a more transparent and just policy toward those fleeing violence next door.
While many had read Lebanon as a state that would not dare to protest and upset what many commentators called the ‘balance of power’ created by the government, the people have shown that this ‘balance’ is less of a concern than real representation.
Photo credit: Roy Chaoul
Stay tuned for part two, when Dr Fakhoury explains the impact of these protests on Lebanon's refugees.