Anti-government demonstrators in Lebanon are burning tires to block key roads, releasing thick palls of smoke that rise above Beirut and other parts of the region.
The strategy has become correlated with a new round of protests against an intransigent political elite that seems to be able to do little as Lebanon descends into political and economic chaos. The nation is in the midst of its worst economic downturn in recent times. Pandemic restrictions and an overburdened health-care system has deteriorated the condition.
Demonstrators in Tripoli, Lebanon’s poorest city, constructed a one-metre-high brick wall to block cars from passing through while allowing emergency vehicles to pass through.
Palestinians have been burning tires in demonstrations against Israeli occupation during their first protest in 1987. Young men organized “tire crews” that rode around the small coastal territory in motorcycle rickshaws collecting tires for burning during protests against an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade of the Gaza Strip three decades later.
Late in 2019, anti-government protests erupted in Lebanon. After nearly 30 years of stability in currency value, the local currency has plummeted since then. Salaries have remained unchanged as inflation has risen. People lost their jobs, and almost half of the population fell into poverty.
The country has been without a leader since August last year, when the cabinet of caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned in the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion, which destroyed large swaths of the capital.
However, President Aoun and the new prime minister-designate, Saad al-Hariri, are at odds and have been unable to form a new government to carry out the necessary reforms to unlock foreign assistance.
Lebanese have watched as members of the ruling class blaming each other for the crisis, exhausted, afraid, and restricted by the coronavirus. The currency reached a new low last week, trading on the black market for 11,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, down from the official 1,500 pounds to the dollar, igniting a new round of rallies.
Pascale Nohra, a protester on a main highway in the Jal al-Dib district, said, “We have said many times that there would be an escalation because the state isn’t doing anything.”
Lebanese troops were deployed on Wednesday to prevent demonstrators from building roadblocks, just two days after President Michel Aoun called for intervention.
General Joseph Aoun, Lebanon’s army leader, also criticized the country’s leaders for their handling of the crisis, warning of an uncertain security situation. “The fragmentation of the army means the end of the entity, this is impossible to let happen. The army is holding together and the experience of ’75 will not be repeated,” he said.
The roadblocks are a desperate attempt to reclaim the national outrage that erupted in 2019, when the government was forced to resign, sparking a brief period of euphoria and optimism that reform could be achieved.
The national mood has shifted to one of terror. Officials have warned of anarchy, and some have claimed that political parties are using the demonstrations to incite violence or gain concessions from rivals.
Many people believe that social tensions have risen to levels not seen since the civil war began in April 1975. Tires were burned as a cheap way to create roadblocks between warring groups.
Reforms in the public and banking sectors have been regularly urged by the international community, but analysts believe they are unlikely to happen anytime soon. That’s because the needed changes will hit the political parties’ system as well as powerful bank shareholders or big depositors.
Foreign parties’ intervention, like that of France, has also proved futile as they are more focused on meeting local urgencies, not Lebanon’s issues. France, involved in local unrests itself, made attempts to divert the attentions to Lebanon’s condition.