On the 13th day of the Lebanese uprising, a violent attack by the supporters of the Amal movement and Hezbollah on protesters in Riyad al-Solh and Martyrs’ squares shook the heart of Beirut. This was not the first attack, but it was the most violent and blatant from two important constituents of the current Lebanese political regime who also are powered by strong paramilitary forces with influence over Shia-dominated, low-income, neighborhoods. A few hours later, Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, mobilizing some small-scale protests by his mostly Sunni supporters in solidarity with him. In short, what the Lebanese revolutionaries consider the counter-revolution, mobilized by the sectarian regime instituted by powerful elites, is making its moves.
For the third part of our interview series with participants in the Lebanese uprising, Mada Masr spoke to Rima Majed, a sociology professor at the American University of Beirut, about the significance of these developments, what challenges they constitute and the way forward for the uprising.
Mada Masr: Can we link the attacks on the protesters to Hariri’s resignation?
Rima Majed: Of course, the link between the two is very clear. The authorities do not want to concede to the people the victory of forcing the head of the government to resign. They are also playing the sectarian card by inciting the Sunnis; we all saw the scenes of roadblocks in the area of Tariq al-Jadida (a Sunni area of Beirut), protesting against the resignation and demanding the return of Hariri. The aim of this is to exclude Sunni citizens from the [revolutionary] movement and to try and reproduce the same regime.
MM: With the movement progressing to a more advanced phase, it appears that citizens are becoming increasingly exhausted and are beginning to ponder the next steps. Do you think that this imposes the need for coordination and some sort of an organized framework for the movement, or must the spontaneity of the movement continue?
RM: Of course not, if this continues to be spontaneous, it will end. That spontaneity was useful in the beginning, but the circumstances began to impose a need for organization. Indeed, certain professional circles have begun coordinating and organizing themselves with trade unions as the foundation in order to highlight the class divide rather than geographic and sectarian divisions.
As this conversation was being held, a “professionals’ association” was announced in Lebanon, a group made up of independents from different professions. An “association of independent university professors” was also announced, consisting of nearly 700 academics from 10 different universities.
MM: How do you view the differences in the demands of different classes and between one area and another? For instance, in the South, we see that the demands are more economic than political; however, in Beirut and other areas, the demands seem to be more outwardly political (This is, of course, with the understanding that the economic is ultimately political.)
RM: The class demands were more frequent in Beirut and Tripoli. The revolution in Beirut started with those downtrodden classes, then other groups joined them. In Tripoli and Akkar, the poorest areas in Lebanon, the demands have been class-oriented. Likewise, there are circumstances other than class issues that have been key factors in the uprising. We have all seen the sectarian and offensive declarations by the ministers and the representatives of the Free Patriotic Movement [Led by Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil — himself the target of many chants from the protesters — the party is a key player in the current power structure] and witnessed the decline of the space for freedoms in an unprecedented manner and the arrests of many because of their posts on social media.
MM: On the procedural level, many questions arise like what comes after the resignation of the government? How can a new government that responds to the demands of the uprising be formed?
RM: The situation after the resignation will depend on the pressure from the street. Constitutionally there are two possibilities. Either the president of the republic puts the head of the government in charge of forming a cabinet — in this scenario, Hariri would most likely be put back in charge. Alternatively, political allies do not agree on the head of the government, leading to a vacuum in which the current government would transform into a caretaker government. Because the situation in Lebanon is critical and one major party (Hezbollah) has weapons, there are many who prefer that we stay in a constitutional context, and not head towards the formation of an assembly that would rewrite the constitution.
MM: Regarding Hezbollah, some see it as an ally with other parties in managing the country, while others see it as the de facto ruler, and consequently, the confrontation lies primarily with it. What do you think?
RM: Hezbollah is the most powerful governing actor in the country, but it is not the only one. For example, one of the worrying issues is that Hezbollah has always wanted to rewrite the constitution so that, rather than a 50-50 division of power between Christians and Muslims, we would have a division into thirds between the Sunnis, Shias and Christians. This poses a threat to the [protesters’] demands to amend the Constitution.
MM: There have been new/old demands, although not very prominent in this uprising, to disarm Hezbollah. What do you think of this demand?
RM: I am not in favor of upholding these kinds of slogans. I am in favor of bringing back the crushed class, who are being exploited by Hezbollah’s clientelism, to the real class struggle. These classes are clearly not ready to listen to these slogans. It was necessary to end the party’s exceptional status (when it comes to opposition politics), and this did happen — otherwise, we would not have seen the party supporters attempts to attack the demonstrators. Meanwhile, we have an enemy next door in Israel, and as long as there is no alternative resistance to this enemy, the slogan calling for disarmament is not right. I’m calling for a slogan from the heart of the revolution against Israel. I want to reclaim the resistance [against Israel] from Hezbollah’s monopoly. Nobody within our movement has called for peace with Israel; we face a real concern from the occupying power [Israel] that we must deal with throughout. We have to terminate any potential distortions of our movement and dismantle claims that it is a revolution driven by embassies or hidden agendas.
MM: Some of the demands posit that the Lebanese army is a good solution to end the quota system, what do you think?
RM: As a matter of principle, the army is not a solution in any place — not in Lebanon or anywhere else. The revolution aims to preserve democracy, and military control is not conducive to democratic mechanisms and does not conform to the Lebanese constitution anyways. If the military limits itself to fulfilling its primary mission of protecting the borders, that would be great. But if this movement is calling for a president with a military background, it’s worth remembering that the current president, as well as the previous one and the one before him, all come from a military background.