Yesterday, 20 March, more than 20,000 demonstrators take to the streets of Beirut, for the third demonstration in a month, to protest against the political and institutionalized sectarian system in Lebanon. The first demonstration, which was in a stormy weather, was 2,000 strong and the second, a week later, saw 10,000 people marching under the same anti-sectarian slogans. Yesterday, the media reported there were between 20,000 and 30,000 people taking part.
Youth and workers poured into the square in Achrafieh (East Beirut) filling up the whole area. The lively demonstration marched across the former “Green Line”, went into working class and poor areas in Beirut and ended outside the Interior Ministry.
Rice was thrown on demonstrators by older men and women, fathers, mothers, and children, from balconies all along the way. This is a tradition in Lebanon during weddings and celebrations, showing, in this case, growing support for a movement which is challenging the whole ruling elite. The chants, some of which rhyme in Arabic, ranged from, “The people want to topple the regime” (the most popular chant today in the Arab world), “Revolt! Against sectarianism! Revolt! Against corruption! Revolt! Against inheritance! Revolt! Against migration! Revolt! Against unemployment! etc.” and “Those standing on the balconies, come down and join your people! Those standing on the pavement! Come and fight for your bread!”
The journalists present were almost hysterical, running around and climbing onto all sorts of things, trying to catch all the revolutionary slogans being chanted or to catch slogans written on banners and placards. We were all astonished by the number of demonstrators, the political slogans, and the determination of youth, and even the men and women who have now been inspired by many generations to fight for change.
People were taking the CWI leaflets from our hands too quickly for us to notice. There is clearly a thirst for ideas and a way forward, as many were asking us, in our opinion, how the Lebanese government can be toppled. Youth returned to us and asked for 10-20 leaflets to give out to others. One man said, “Give me all the leaflets you can, I need to go and convince people” and disappeared into the crowd while giving them out to people. Almost everyone we saw took a leaflet off us. In Lebanon, leafleting is not a tradition, not even among the Left, who now especially have all dissolved into the movement as ‘individuals’, and under an ‘agreement’ to ban participation by organised parties. This is a measure taken by those who do not want “politicize the movement”, and they refer to weapons and the UN’s international tribunal, as issues that divide the Lebanese people. CWI members are contributing to discussions by activists, in meetings of committees and in open public meetings, and we are leafleting the demonstrations, putting forward a class alternative to sectarian divisions and corruption.
One woman on yesterday’s protest took a CWI leaflet and then returned to us, saying: “Heremna, lehathihi el la7za el tari5iya!” (a well known saying by a man in Tunisia during that country’s recent revolution, which means: ‘We have aged, for this historical moment!’), and she was all full of emotion.
CWI Lebanon leaflet text, distributed at 20,000-strong demonstration in Beirut on 20 March 2011:
Unity around demands on bread and butter issues and for the toppling of the regime!
We are seeing today in Lebanon the beginning of a growing movement against a corrupt sectarian regime, against unemployment, migration, high living costs, and poverty. Under the slogan, ‘For the toppling of the sectarian regime’, thousands of people demonstrated and demanded accountability of those responsible for sectarian wars, recurrent crises and the deterioration of living conditions.
The majority of the slogans raised by the demonstrators are the demands that reflect the living conditions of young people, workers and the poor, regarding education, social security, housing, unemployment, corruption and the waste of public money. Only these slogans are able to unite workers and the poor against the sectarian system.
In order to build a mass movement capable of bringing down the sectarian system which breeds wars and poverty, it is necessary to unite workers, low income employees, the poor, the unemployed and small farmers around livelihood demands.
While some mainstream party leaders are raising "populist" demands, they are big businessmen from the ex-feudalist families and the capitalist class today, who are themselves whipping up sectarian divisions to exploit workers and loot the wealth.
The movement today rejects civil wars and conflicts over "quotas" between community leaders, condemning the looting taking place in the public sector, and calling for an end to the political “inheritance”. The poor are paying the price for the repeated economic and political crises, and a growing layer among the masses is now disgusted by the ruling class with all its sectarian factions. While the ruling class raises the empty slogan of "national unity", it is responsible for the sectarian politics and the policies of "divide and conquer."
We fight for the true unity of the working class against the ruling class that kills and steals from us, under the pretext of "sectarian balance." They are traders and businessmen and we are workers, the poor, youth and the unemployed.
It is necessary to build upon the desire of young people and workers for change, to build on the demands of a better life, and to build a mass movement of workers and youth that is able to challenge the ruling economic system. The movement can put forward and discuss alternative economic policies and fight for government funding for agriculture, industry and public sectors under the control of the working people and the poor masses. And through such a movement, we can fight for the restoration of public money, for a living minimum wage, according to the real cost of living, for the creation of jobs, and for a reduction in working hours, without any loss of wages.
We need to build our own alternative of our own class, because we are the exploited and the oppressed by the owners of capital and large corporations. We want an improvement in the standard of living and an end to approach of the sectarian corrupt capitalists.
In order to overthrow the sectarian system and topple the sectarian ruling regime, it is necessary to move against the capitalist class in Lebanon represented by their successive sectarian governments for decades. They have carried out economic policies that are subject to the policies of the central banks and the banking service. They have emptied our institutions and infested their departments with corruption. They have attacked, cut and closed down industries and agricultural production. They have abandoned youth, who represent 41% of the workforce, and who now face high unemployment exceeding 30%.
What has generated the revolutions of the Arab peoples and popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and other countries is poverty, deteriorating living conditions and oppression by tyranny of the ruling Arab classes.
It is necessary to change the economic system and to overthrow the corrupt thieves [plundering] public funds, who have ruled us for decades. They are sectarian leaders representing businessmen and savage capitalists, who exploit religious affiliations to divide youth into supporters of their own sectarian parties.
What is happening in the Arab countries is only a beginning of change, and, in Lebanon, it is time to put forward a real alternative to the rotten sectarian capitalist system. The time has come to work towards building a mass workers’ movement that poses and discusses the real socialist alternative.