Protesters speak out against corruption in Lebanese government

Thursday, October 24, 2019 - 12:00am

Students gather as part of a demonstration in support of the people of Lebanon on the Diag Wednesday.

Students gather as part of a demonstration in support of the people of Lebanon on the Diag Wednesday. Buy this photo
Rita Vega/Daily

Music, dabke and calls for revolution filled the Diag Wednesday as dozens of students and community members gathered in solidarity with protests against chronic corruption in the Lebanese government. Thursday marks the eighth day of protests where millions of Lebanese people from all sects and regions of the country shut down streets and businesses to voice their demands for fair governance.

The protests were spurred by a tax on WhatsApp, the country’s most popular messaging app. LSA senior Silan Fadlallah, who is Lebanese, emphasized the WhatsApp tax is merely the tip of the iceberg.

“I know a lot of people make jokes, ‘Oh, it’s the WhatsApp tax that tipped everything over,’ which is funny,” Fadlallah said. “Being Lebanese myself, I laughed at that. But I think people need to be very conscious of the way that media portrays the protests. And they need to understand that no, it’s not WhatsApp that was, ‘Oh, now I’m going to get mad.’ It’s been a long time coming, and it’s been a compilation of a lot of injustices, and a lot of things that people deserve basic human rights, like medical care, for example, that they haven’t been granted.”

LSA senior Maya Zreik, who is Lebanese and the Middle East regional editor for the Michigan Journal of International Affairs, agrees, and said the protests are a result of high unemployment and the government’s inability to meet basic needs. 

“I think these protests show that people are at their breaking point right now, because corruption in Lebanon has gotten worse as the years have gone by,” Zreik said. “... I know people don’t have food, don’t have clean drinking water, don’t have electricity. So I think these protests are a culmination of all of these struggles coming together right now.”

Lebanon’s protests have typically been divided across religious and ethnic lines, but this time the protests have been non-sectarian.

“The protests are really beautiful to watch because people of different religions, ethnic groups are uniting to demand accountability from the government and an end to corruption, and renewal of government services that are necessary for basic survival,” Zreik said. “Hopefully this becomes a true revolution.”

Engineering junior Bashar Hallak said uniting sectarian groups is success in itself.

“Even if none of what we ask for happens, we made a big improvement,” Hallak said. “This is a very good success that we made, is that we’ve all come together, and we’ve proved to the world that Lebanese people are united.”

Fadlallah said while some don’t see the importance of protests, she believes they can help raise awareness about the situation.

“A lot of people don’t see the point in protests,” Fadlallah said. “I think that in this case specifically, seeing protests that are happening worldwide from a bunch of Lebanese people in the most random countries is amazing, and I think we have a duty, in a sense, to put ourselves out there. Not even for the Lebanese government to be like, ‘Oh, they’re protesting in Dearborn, we need to change something,’ but for us to raise awareness with our own communities to realize this is something that’s affecting a lot of your friends, or a lot of people in your community, and it’s something you should be made aware of.”