From Lebanon to Chile, Protesters Are Uniting Against The Ruling Class
In Chile, Iraq, and Lebanon, people have put aside their sectarian and ethnic differences to fight back against corrupt, capitalist systems of oppression.
CW: mentions of police/ government brutality, mentions of sexual violence, death
By Reina Sultan
“Thawra! Thawra! Thawra!” As you watch videos of the Lebanese uprising, you can hear protesters call for revolution in the streets of Beirut, Tripoli, and Tyre. These protests—which were originally fueled by a WhatsApp voice calling tax proposed by the government—have quickly grown into a movement calling for the resignations of all of the leaders of the entire country. Since the end of the Lebanese Civil War through the 1989 Taif Agreement, each of the top political positions are allocated by religion. This system has created a class of political elites who use and abuse the system to retain power and accumulate wealth. As the political leaders get richer through decades of corruption, the Lebanese economy remains stagnant. While average citizens complain of crumbling infrastructure, the ruling class lines their own pockets.
Despite the lack of jobs in the country, citizens have high costs of living, often relying on private companies for the services that the corrupt government hasn’t been able to consistently provide since the civil war. The high unemployment rates and stagnant economy have not affected the political elites’ wealth since the corruption that makes them rich permeates every part of Lebanese society, as reported by Transparency International in 2012. The patronage networks and clientelism endemic to Lebanon since the civil war mean the rich have gotten richer and the poor poorer—a classic tale in capitalist societies.
The protesters—united by class rather than sect—have long been suffering due to tax hikes, national debt, and general economic insecurity. Meanwhile, the political elite has been benefiting through a system that encourages political patronage and sectarianism meant to divide the population. But the Lebanese people have had enough. Protesters are demanding the provision of basic services like electricity and water. They want the politicians who have profited off of the poor to pay back what they’ve stolen from the country. The Lebanese people want a truly democratic government of experts who can lead the country out of economic and financial turmoil and into a new era.
Lebanon is not the only country whose citizens are united against rich elites. The cries of “thawra” can be heard in Iraq as well. For weeks now, protesters from all sects in Baghdad have been demonstrating in Tahrir Square. Iraqis are angry that the country’s oil wealth has not translated into prosperity for the population, who live in poverty without access to services like clean water, healthcare, or quality education.
Not only is the government of Iraq seen as ineffective, many citizens believe them to be puppets for foreign powers like Iran, Turkey, and the United States. Similar to the system in Lebanon, Iraq currently has a sectarian power-sharing government, which many believe breeds corruption and political patronage. The protesters want a government chosen by the people, without regard for sect.
The Iraqi government has responded to the mostly peaceful protests with brutal excessive force, murdering at least 250 people in October. Human rights groups have condemned the government’s violence and use of live ammunition, but the Iraqi government denies any wrongdoing. Despite the government’s threats and unjust killings, Iraqis continue to take to the streets. The protesters have shut down the streets in Baghdad, disallowing government workers to get to their offices unless they work in humanitarian fields. They are determined to pressure the government until the corrupt regime falls. With that, they hope for better service provision, more jobs, and a more equal playing field for all Iraqis.
In Chile, the protests began on October 14th with a 3% increase in subway fares. Since then, the nation has turned its focus on the government led by billionaire Sebastián Piñera. Piñera has replaced eight ministers since the beginning of the uprising, but the protesting Chileans want more.
In Chile, one percent of the population holds 33% of the wealth, meaning most of the country hasn’t seen any of the fruits of the country’s economic growth. Beyond this, Chile’s constitution written in 1980 solidified the capitalist economy which has seen the privatization of pensions, healthcare, and education. The cost of living for poor Chileans continues to increase, while wages remain stagnant and services remain inaccessible. As such, the people are demanding the constitution be rewritten to better distribute the country’s resources.
According to the protestors, those in government are the same people who are economically privileged. They pass laws that only benefit the rich, while poorer Chileans suffer. Government forces don’t intend to give up their wealth and power easily. The president declared a night-time curfew and deployed military equipped with tanks, water cannons, and tear gas to quell protests. 18 people have been killed and hundreds injured, but the people are determined to continue their protesting even in the face of police brutality and sexual violence.
In Chile, Iraq, and Lebanon, people have put aside their sectarian and ethnic differences to fight back against corrupt, capitalist systems of oppression. They’ve recognized their collective power and are harnessing it to demand change in countries long-ruled by the same political elites. Watching these protests unfold reminds us that the power should be with the people who are systematically oppressed by capitalism.
In a capitalist society, everything is constructed to make us more comfortable waiting for the extremely slim chance we’ll be the lucky ones to get rich instead of rising up collectively to challenge the entire system. Rather than creating a system of fairness and prosperity for all, we are made to believe that hard work and dedication will result in success and wealth for those who deserve it. That’s bullshit. And the people of Lebanon, Iraq, and Chile are calling their leaders on it.
According to a former official, the government of Iran worries that the “spirit of defiance” in Iraq could inspire similar protests in their own country. The lack of American politicians announcing their solidarity with these movements and the almost nonexistent media coverage of these events indicates the same fear here in the United States. By refusing to cover the protests in real-time, American media has the power to frame the uprisings however they see fit. Just look at how the average American views the Palestinian Intifadas. Justified uprisings against a settler-colonial power have been reframed in the minds of millions as terrorist violence against an American ally.
This is typical. In fact, what is now the United States has tried to quell rebellion since it was still a British colony. In 1522, enslaved Muslim Africans killed their enslavers with machetes, freeing Native American slaves as they revolted on the island of Hispaniola. As a result, Muslim slaves were banned from the Americas for fear that similar revolts would happen there. In 1835, the Muslim-led Malê revolt in Brazil was spearheaded by enslaved people who were inspired by the Haitian Revolution. In the United States, enslaved Muslims were made to convert to Christianity, hoping that would discourage disobedience amongst enslaved people.
Americans have long forgotten the 1971 Attica Prison Riot. As noted by Teen Vogue, the uprising has been left out of media discourse despite being one of the catalysts for the modern prisoners’ rights movement. It is by design that certain events fall out of American consciousness. To inform the nation about protests that could change the status quo might inspire something similar today. God forbid the millions of incarcerated people in the United States rise up against the terrible and inhumane conditions under which they have been forced to live.
As the tradition goes, the U.S. is again trying to pull the wool over our eyes by keeping us in the dark about any disruption of the status quo—at home or abroad. The powerful people in our country hope we never hear the screams of the Lebanese protesters demanding their power back from the few who hold it now. In Lebanon, the revolutionaries want all of their leaders to resign.
The slogan of the Lebanese uprising is “Keloun ya2nee keloun.” But “all of them means all of them” shouldn’t stop in Lebanon. We should support revolutionaries’ attempts to end oppression from Iraq, to Chile, to the United States of America. Thawra forever.
Reina Sultan (she/her) is a Lebanese-American Muslim woman working on gender and conflict issues at her nine to five. A California native, she enjoys the beach, the sun, and complaining about the weather in D.C., where she now lives. Reina is passionate about smashing the patriarchy and eating the rich. Her work can also be found in Huffington Post, Rewire.News, and Rantt. Following @SultanReina on Twitter will provide you with endless hot takes and photos of Reina’s extremely cute cats.
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