This impunity of the ruling neoliberal sectarian class permits similar other criminal catastrophes. In August 2021, a new criminal explosion occurred in the north of the country, in the village of Tleil in the Akkar, which killed about thirty people. It was deprivation and misery that drove hundreds of young men from Akkar to rush to a gasoline tank under the cover of the night, left at their disposal by the army, to obtain a few liters against in the context of a shortage, before the explosion of the fuel tank. The most impoverished governorate, Akkar, which has the highest illiteracy rate and the lowest per capita income, has all the characteristics of a relatively isolated rural community with poor infrastructure, low quality education, and deficient health services. Following the tragedy of August 15, three MPs from the region, Tarek el Merhebi, Walid Baarini and Assaad Dergham, were singled out by the local population as accomplices, or even masterminds, of the smuggling activities, traditional in this region, which have plunged Akkar into the abyss. These MPs come from large feudal families that have held sway over the region for many years without, however, bringing the slightest concrete form of development to its inhabitants. The first two come from Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, and the last one from the Free Patriotic Movement, affiliated with President Aoun.
Where Is the Resistance?
The protest movement has been weakened considerably since October 2019, although it never completely petered out despite state repression, the financial crisis, and the pandemic. Despite this dissipation, some small victories have been secured. In late 2020, university student elections saw significant victories (e.g. American University in Beirut; Saint Joseph University; Lebanese American University) of independent, democratic, and secular lists opposed to all of the ruling neoliberal sectarian parties, many of which decided not to run candidates. In addition, a coalition called “The Order Revolts” brought together various political groups from the uprising and various independent parties, winning fifteen out of twenty seats in four departments of the Order of Engineers and Architects, as well as 220 of 283 representative seats against the alliance of almost all ruling neoliberal sectarian parties, which had formed a united list—despite failing to form a government since August 2020.
However, the continuous absence of mass non-sectarian organizations and parties rooted in the country’s popular classes remains the main problem in the protest movement. They do not yet exist and that weakens the movement’s ability to cohere itself into a social and political challenge to the neoliberal sectarian parties and their system.
The various sectors of the left and progressives are very fragmented within the protest movement and have not been able to build a united front capable of channeling demands and organizing demonstrators across the country. The creation of dual power is an urgent political necessity in order to challenge the state and the sectarian, bourgeois political parties. On their side, the more liberal and right-wing sectors of the movement, which do not have a class analysis, have multiplied attempts to organize themselves, such as the agreement signed in June 2021 between the Bloc National and the Minteshreen group by advocating a liberal discourse close to the center-right and likely to seduce a bourgeoisie eager for change but resistant to the means required to achieve it.
At the same time, some sectarian parties such as the Kataeb, and to a lesser extent the Lebanese Forces, are still trying to portray themselves as part of the protest movement and to seek to ally with some liberal actors. This weakened the appeal of the protest movement for radical change, while increasing tensions within the movement because many considered these parties to be major components of the sectarian system. These parties are seeking to reinforce their positions in the state’s power structure rather than changing it altogether. The members of the Lebanese Forces actually physically assaulted members of the Lebanese Communist Party during a protest, while Kataeb’s supporters also harassed protesters in a demonstration.
Furthermore, the weakness of trade union structures poses a recurring problem. Sectarian parties have, as argued in a previous article I wrote for Spectre, actively contributed to weakening the trade union movement since the 1990s. Public sector employees were largely underrepresented, just one percent of protesters in the beginning of the protest movement according to Lea Bou Khather and Rima Majed, while the public sector today employs roughly 300,000 civil servants—fourteen percent of the total labor force. This was mostly connected to the role of sectarian clientelism in public sector employment, but also the cooptation of the Union Coordination Committee (UCC) in 2016 and the rapprochement of its leadership with the ruling elite. For instance, in January of this year, the UCC suspended a strike against the draft budget, which notably includes the reduction of the Lebanese University budget and threatens the social security of its professors, after meeting with Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, who agreed to amend some clauses of the draft budget. However, several trade unions, including the Association of Full-Time Lebanese University Professors, consider these amendments to be merely cosmetic, insisting that they do not meet their demands. They therefore voted to continue their strike.
In this political context, amid deep economic crisis and the absence of any viable political alternative, sectarian parties will be able to mobilize their confessional bases and maintain their hegemony in future elections.
The momentum of October 2019 has waned, and many Lebanese are now focused on meeting their primary needs. The diverse sectarian parties have been able, at different levels, to maintain hegemony over their religious communities through various mechanisms, whether using consent or violence, in order to bind the interests of subaltern classes to their party structures and their interests. They have continuously, despite their rivalries, worked to prevent the construction and consolidation of any forms of social or political alternative during and outside elections periods, particularly regarding labor movements and other proletarian forces.
The sectarian nature of the state, accompanied by the promotion of neoliberal policies, is an obstacle to the rise of a working-class alternative from below, capable of challenging the ruling bourgeois sectarian parties. In this perspective, the ruling parties will use the next elections as a way to try to regain some legitimacy, both locally and internationally.