OPN Lebanon-1572259772399
Anti-government protesters hold national flags during ongoing protests against the Lebanese government, in Beirut, Lebanon. Image Credit: AP

Our hearts are solidly with the Lebanese who’ve taken to the streets in massive numbers under the Lebanese flag to protest against the self-serving and incompetent political class.

No one can deny that the demonstrators of all ages, socioeconomic classes and religious persuasions have right on their side or that their demands for a fresh government, shorn of the jaundiced old guard, are unjust.

Few can remain unmoved by the festive fashion in which Muslims, Christians and Druze have united to be heard, many expressing their newfound determination to better their lives not only with chants and banners but also with spontaneous song and dance.

Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri responded with a package of reforms, a move received by jaundiced ears; they’ve heard it all before and as far as they are concerned the government’s pledges are as much garbage as that which defaces their cities and towns.

This manifestation of joy reflects the unbreakable spirit of a people whose country has veered from one crisis to another since the outbreak of a fifteen-year-long civil war in 1975, followed by a Syrian occupation, a devastating war with Israel and the burden of being host to 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Hezbollah’s thugs

The people want fresh faces in government but even if ministers were inclined to resign, they have been instructed, yes instructed, by Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah to stay put.

The protests were largely peaceful until clashes broke out when Hezbollah’s thugs throwing bottles joined the party yelling “Nasrallah is the only one who is not corrupt!”

In a televised speech broadcast to protesters in Beirut’s Riad Al Solh Square, Nasrallah warned of a political vacuum, accused regional and international powers of fuelling dissent and hoped to empty the squares by touting the potential of civil war.

The people reacted to those threats with chants of “all of them, means all” thus sending a message without mentioning Hezbollah and its lackeys by name.

Why because just like their militia protected politicians they fear doing so.

Today Lebanon is heavily in debt and on the verge of economic collapse partly due to mismanagement and as many Lebanese believe a situation worsened by political elites salting away billions in overseas banks.

Tourism, once the country’s economic lifeblood is down to a trickle while foreign investment is negligible.

Washington’s intensification of sanctions against Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, designed to deprive the group of funding amid warnings of more to come has hobbled even the slimmest chance of economic growth.

Together with its subservient allies, Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal and President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, the political wing of Hezbollah dominates Lebanon’s cabinet and parliament while its military wing is better armed and better trained than the Lebanese Army.

The sad fact is the country is being held hostage by the ayatollahs in Qom where Nasrallah once lived for the purpose of religious study.

No matter how large or how worthy street protests cannot weaken Hezbollah’s vice-like grip on almost every facet of Lebanon’s political and civil life. Nasrallah holds all the political cards and most of the heavy weaponry.

Moreover he enjoys a substantial devoted following in a southern suburb of Beirut, south Lebanon and in the Beqaa Valley.

No room for optimism

I wish I could be more optimistic but as long as Hezbollah succeeds in maintaining its stranglehold over an educated, innovative, highly creative and entrepreneurial population no amount of protests will alter the status quo in any meaningful fashion.

Perhaps the time is ripe for the international community to offer a helping hand. Lebanon’s star could shine as one of the brightest in the region again.

All the essentials are there waiting to be utilised to their full potential. But barring a miracle the people desperately seeking change cannot do it alone.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.