February 28, 2011
BEIRUT: Hundreds of people braved a cold, driving rain Sunday to march in support of toppling the country’s sectarian political system, which the demonstrators blame for corruption and impoverishing the public.
Protestors held banners reading “The people want to topple the sectarian regime,” and chanted “Revolution has arrived in Lebanon,” hoping to capitalize the wave of pro-change fever sweeping the Arab world.
“We no longer believe in a system that has not given us throughout the years except corruption and hate for each other, we are sick and tired of poverty and very few job opportunities, we want equality between the people,” said Yara, a 20-year-old journalism student.
Lebanon is governed by a delicate power-sharing system to maintain the balance between the country’s many sects. By long-standing convention the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the Parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.
For the several groups that called for the march, and used Facebook to spread their message, the turnout for the first such protest was encouraging.
“I believe that what happened today is an achievement on the road to demolishing this sectarian system,” said Nehmat Badreddine, the spokesperson for the demonstration organizers.
“We believe that things will improve. We haven’t yet decided when our next move is, but we will announce it soon.”
The organizers distributed a leaflet saying they demanded a “secular, civil, democratic, socially just and equal state” and called for an increase in the minimum wage and lower prices for basic goods.
Although the effort was markedly critical of the March 14 and March 8 camps, the Future Movement fielded a small group of protestors, in a “symbolic” participation.
“We in the Future Movement are against this sectarian regime, although some sides in the country are trying to manipulate us in order to be involved in the sectarian game that is going on in the country,” said Wissam Shibli, the general coordinator of Future’s youth section.
Protestors walked the distance from the Mar Mikhael Church in the southern suburb of Shiyyah to the Museum area in Beirut, a route that was a green line during the country’s 1975-90 Civil War.
While protesters chanted the now-popular refrain of “The people want to bring down the regime,” other held banners that read: “Enough lies and politics, we want to eat,” “You made us hate the month of March … We want to fight Israel and have a drink at night,” “Leave religion to clergymen, and politics to politicians …We want to live.”
“We come here today asking for the downfall of the sectarian regime which, along with the sectarian leaders, has been manipulating our future,” said Walid Obeid, 40, employed in the banking sector.
For Nassib Lobani, 71, Lebanon’s sectarian regime has proven to be useless. “We are here to topple the sectarian system, I have been living in this country enough to realize that this system is useless” he said. “I hold the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran these two books call for peace and love.”
The actual steps required to bring about the demonstrators’ goal might not be clear, but the end result is. “We want a secular system that ensures justice and freedom and democracy, and we want to be able to live a decent life,” said one protester, who declined to give his name.
Demonstrators emphasized that they were independent people who want to make a change, affirming that they represented diverse political affiliations and different parts of the country. They said they set all of their differences aside in order to combine their efforts to try to change the system regime.
“For the first time ever, a demonstration this big takes place in the street, in this bad weather. We aren’t March 8 or March 14, we are Lebanese citizens who want to live and have social justice and equality,” said Rawad Shami, on behalf one of the Facebook groups that mobilized people for Sunday’s march.