Contribution by Emilie FREMONDIERE
3rd-year student in ESSCA’s Bachelor in International Business Development
« I like to enrich myself by discovering other cultures and ways of life through travels. »
The events of October 2019’ have united the Lebanese nation, more than ever. Men, women and children, elders and young people, Muslims and Christians, Shiites and Sunnis, member of sects or not, all put aside their disagreements to peacefully march in the streets and protest against their government’s behaviour. On October 17th, Prime minister Saad HARIRI’s government announced a new tax on calls made through free online applications such as WhatsApp, supposedly to raise revenue in order to put an end to the fiscal crisis the country is going through. This decision was the spark that brought more than 20% of the population to show their dissatisfaction in the streets. Even if this tax has in the meantime been cancelled, the Lebanese are angry because of the inaction of their corrupt government. The dynamism of the civil society is facing the indifference the politicians.
However, there’s a part of the Lebanese society that screams with deep anger: the “post-Taëf generation”. They are 20 to 30 years old, mostly from the middle class and they are fighting for their rights. This is the new generation that was born after the so-called Taëf agreement – which put an end to 15 years of civil war in 1989 – to whom the “country’s reconstruction” was promised. None of it happened. Instead they got a financial crisis, growing unemployment rate, less and less job opportunities, difficult access to studies and one of the highest debt-to-G.D.P. ratios in the world. They are constantly seeing their friends or family almost “forced” to leave the country in order to find job and studies opportunities elsewhere. The current taxes are rising while they are working to pay their studies. They don’t see themselves living in resignation like their parents did, without social and health protection, putting up with a lack of basic services that causes constant power and water cuts, and accepting their politicians’ behaviour. “The politicians told us that we hate each other, but we don’t,” said Fatima Hammoud, 23. “I’m from a specific sect. My friend is from a specific sect. But we’re all here together for our futures and our children’s futures. We don’t want to live the way our parents lived.”
According to some journalists, because they haven’t lived during the Civil War when all the ethnic divisions were brought to the surface, they are more willing to overthrow the power in charge than the elders are. They are raising their voices, aware of the uncertainty that hovers over their future. They are motivating each other, screaming for “civil disobedience”, asking for change. They rely on pacifism by trying not to cross the thin boundary that separates anger from violence. The social media played a role of facilitating and speeding up the organization of a movement that was, above all, spontaneous. For them, only a renewal of government, without any exception, will improve the economic situation.
The Anti-Governmental revolt is also linked to an overall desire to quit the 30-year old Lebanese oligarchic system of confessionalism. Since the end of the civil war, Lebanese citizens feel locked in a segmented system of power – in which disparities are enhanced, cronyism and clan pillaging of public money are spread – led by political parties and families that have been in place for decades.
In response, on October 21th, the government presented an ambitious reform plan that is expected to implement new budgets plans without tax raise, aids for the disadvantaged and measures against corruption and mismanagement of public services. But the people remained sceptical. The government has lost the trust of the Lebanese, there’s nothing that can make them credible to their eyes anymore. They want the whole executive power to leave.
On day 13 since the beginning of the demonstrations, Prime Minister HARIRI announced his resignation, paving the way for a new era in which hope and uncertainty are mixed up. But what’s next? Is it really a step that announces the changes the population is waiting for? As a consequence of the global slowdown of the economy over recent weeks, the country’s financial crisis worsens. While the Lebanese people is asking for the implementation of a transitional government made up of technocrats based on snap elections results, the Lebanese Constitution gives the right to President Michel AOUN to choose a new Sunni prime minister in order to build a whole new government. As a result: no plans for an anticipated election. The people are still protesting in the streets, more united than ever, for a deep change in the political system including the end of confessionalism and oligarchy.
Thirty-years after the end of the civil war, October 2019 is seen as a national Renaissance. The Lebanese people seems decided to peacefully fight for a new socio-economic system until they have it. The young generation is hoping for their country to one day meet their aspirations.
But the wish of a new world, guided by different values, is not limited to Lebanon. Let’s open this article on three other places where young people show their awareness of being stuck in a world where they did not create but are condemned to live in.
Hong Kong: The second “Umbrella Revolution”
Since the beginning of September 2019, students in Hong Kong are fighting against the increasing control of Hong Kong by the Chinese regime. While the relationship’s arrangement was defined as « one country, two systems« , Beijing put in place a new law regarding extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China. Because of different cultural roots, histories and societal desires, opponents highlighted the risk of being under a growing Chinese influence and of being exposed to unfair trials. Student Unions took the movement’s leadership, acting for a future that meets their aspirations of freedom and self-determination. They scream out against the « fake democracy », requesting the implementation of a complete universal suffrage.
Budapest: The “Degrowth movement »
The « Degrowth movement » is based on a philosophical concept developed in the 1970s, is being rediscovered by a new generation of activists. One of the places where its heart beats is Budapest. During the year I spent in the Hungarian capital, I met with some degrowth promoters who wish to spread another vision of our economic system. The movement was mostly launched by young people eager to find solutions for building a more responsible world. They are attached to principles such as sustainability, justice and equality, conviviality, non-commerciality, democratic and responsible self-management. This growing movement organises actions and conferences to disseminate the desire to change behaviour patterns, think and act more locally, and more responsibly.
Stockholm: #ClimateStrike movement
The movement started in Sweden with a 15-year old student: Greta THUNBERG. Within one year, she has become the emblematic figure of a worldwide movement. Her watchword: « Fridays for future« . She is calling all students worldwide to go on strike each Friday, instead of going to school until governments start to act in favour of an ecological transition against climate change. All over the world, young people are taking the lead of the movement in their own country, supported by a lot of civil society organisations like Greenpeace.
The socio-economic revolt in which the Lebanese young generation is involved, the democratic spirit that inspires the Hong-Kong youth, the ecological sensitivity that students fight for, and the new vision of life based on degrowth – these are all different faces of the same desire of building a better world.
This student blogpost was produced within the framework of the 3rd-year module « International Issues and Challenges » of ESSCA’s Bachelor in International Management, following a course design developed by the EU-Asia Institute. The opinions expressed are of course those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the institute.