Anti-Riot police in Lebanon dispersed protesters storming the country's Central Bank headquarters amidst continued economic and political discontent and growing signs of violence.
Like their counterparts in Iraq, protesters in Lebanon are witnessing increased push-back from the authorities and the security forces. Although reaching nowhere near the levels of violence seen in Iraq, the number of violent incidents in the country rose over the past week, perpetrated by both the security forces and protesters. The words of the Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, who called on the protesters to return home or risk catastrophe, have also failed to calm the protesters, with many of them only increasing their activities following the speech.
The latest bout of scuffles took place in the headquarters of Banque du Liban (lebanese Central Bank) which was stormed by the protesters. Protesters present accused the bank of worsening living conditions in Lebanon, with many of them calling for the head of the bank to be judged for the role he played in the crisis and for failing to live up to his responsibilities. In response, Anti-Riot police was deployed into the area in a bid to disperse the protesters who chanted slogans against the repression of freedom of speech. Many of them also accused news channels of restricting their coverage of the protests and called on them to provide more coverage.
Responding to the continued protests, President Aoun held a meeting with the ministers of economy, investment and finance to discuss the economic issues gripping the country. Although Aoun, in a previous speech, called for more time, adding that his government is working to implement reforms, many protesters have remained sceptical of the government’s efforts, with many protesters growing angrier over the slow and limited pace of reforms. Indeed, the union of petrol stations and fuel announced that its workers would soon join the general strike and push for cabinet positions.
However, the union’s participation in the cabinet is unlikely to have a major impact so long as the system, which has enabled the dysfunctions of the Lebanese economy, remains in place. It is for this reason that activists were not particularly satisfied with the resignation of Prime Minister, Saad al-Hariri, calling an end to the sectarian system as well.
The protests in Lebanon are bound to have far reaching impacts. Many people are concerned that the growing violence could lead to the repetition of the civil war the country was gripped with. Furthermore, the economic difficulties had a knock-on effect on the neighbouring Syria as well. How the government and the protesters, as well as the myriad non-state actors, act in the coming weeks will be vital for the future of Lebanon.