The protests in Lebanon, which started last month as a reaction to a draft bill imposing new taxes on the communication apps like Whatsapp, seem to be taking on a new dimension.
The protests had adopted an anti-Iranian tone, accusing Tehran of intervening in the domestic issues of the country. The Shiite militant group Hezbollah, one of Iran’s strongest proxies in the region was on the scene as well. Since the beginning of this week, Hezbollah supporters have also taken to the streets, clashing with other protesters. The scenes resemble that of the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted from 1975 to 1990.
The protesters mainly focus on economic deterioration, high unemployment and the unending crisis in the government. One of their demands was the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He did so, but his resignation led to another crisis as parties failed to reach a compromise for a new government. Amid protests, the basic needs of people are not being met and there are failures in the medical system and municipal services, etc.
The demonstrations have a political tone too. It is noteworthy that they are cross-sectarian. This is fundamentally important because Lebanon is a heavily sectarian country. Some protesters chanted slogans against Iran and its proxy in the country, Hezbollah.
Protesters on social media said they were fed up with the unending games played by regional and international powers. The country has become a scene for the ongoing rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran. While the former would like to pledge support to the country's old elite, Iran has intensively supported Hezbollah, which has recently received a place in the government. The rise of Hezbollah has alarmed Israel as it considers the Shiite militant group as an existential threat. The escalation of tensions is not new but has been renewed.
The appearance of Hezbollah supporters on the streets is frightening for Lebanon because the group is heavily armed and in fact, poses as an alternative to the central government in this sense. Being one of the key figures in the civil war, the group had targeted both Sunnis and Christians. Hezbollah supporters, once again, targeted these groups. As of Sunday night, Hezbollah supporters attacked demonstrators. Although these demonstrations were largely cross-sectarian, the clashes with the Hezbollah supporters reminded and even resembled the civil war, which claimed more than 120,000 lives. Amid the ongoing clashes where dozens of people were injured, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has called on the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah. It seems like a symbolic call since the Lebanese government does not have any power to challenge Hezbollah, which has been operating in Syria as well.
Amnesty International has also warned the Lebanese authorities to protect the protesters against Hezbollah supporters. Calling the situation a "dangerous escalation," Amnesty said, “The authorities must act immediately to protect protesters and uphold the right to peaceful assembly.”
The Lebanese authorities are apparently incapable of preventing this escalation since they even failed to create a road map after Hariri’s resignation. Although there was no statement from the Hezbollah authorities, the emergence of its supporters in the streets against protesters recalls scenes from the civil war.
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