Lebanon’s protesters turn on their leaders, breaking taboos

Lebanon's protesters turn on their leaders, breaking taboos

In the protests sweeping Lebanon, nothing is sacred.

Political leaders, who a few weeks ago enjoyed the loyal support of core followers despite worsening economic conditions, are now the target of many of those people’s ire. That show of irreverence towards senior figures who have long commanded respect has broken taboos, setting these demonstrations apart from previous waves of dissent.

Saad al-Hariri stepped down as prime minister on Tuesday in the face of mass protests fuelled by resentment against the ruling elite, whom people blame for the dire state of the economy.

The son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, Gebran Bassil, who is also foreign minister, has become a figure of ridicule among many on the streets of the capital Beirut.

Hezbollah, the heavily armed Shi’ite group widely recognised as the most powerful force in the country, has not been spared. Chants against its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah would have been unthinkable last month. Now they are common.

In Nabatiyeh, a mainly Shi’ite town in the south of the country, protesters have set their sights on Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, one of Lebanon’s most powerful politicians whose Amal Movement dominates the area.

“I have come down to protest to bring down Berri who is a symbol of corruption,” said Koussay Charara, a Shi’ite teacher who was one of thousands of people occupying the town square and surrounding streets.

When hundreds of protesters chanted against Berri in one of the town’s main streets, residents say they were attacked by groups of baton-wielding mobs believed to be supporters of Amal and its ally Hezbollah.

At least eight people were hurt, some of whom were hospitalised.

In other places in Nabatiyeh and elsewhere in the south, posters of Berri that adorned government buildings were damaged by angry demonstrators.

The politician himself has sided with protesters, telling MPs from his party last week that the crowds had achieved some of the changes that Amal itself had been demanding for decades.

A source within Amal said the tens of thousands of people taking to the streets had made legitimate demands for greater transparency, accountability and action against corruption.”The Amal movement and its leader were not surprised by the social explosion that took place,” he said.

That explosion is pitting people once aligned in a single faction against each other, adding to the sense of chaos in Lebanese towns and cities.

In Nabatiyeh, those backing Berri chanted their support.

“With our blood and lives we offer ourselves as a sacrifice for you Nabih,” they shouted.

New posters appeared of the smiling politician, accompanied by the words “We are With You”.