This essay frames the early promise and energy of Lebanon’s October 2019 uprising, triggered by the government’s announcement of a series of regressive taxes. After fifteen years of civil war (1975–90) and three decades of postwar neoliberal policies, people rose up against a kleptocratic ruling class of sectarian leaders and financiers that had captured and bankrupted the state through a nationwide Ponzi scheme. Protests were nation-wide, calling for the downfall of the government and reform of the sectarian political and clientalist system. Many demanded a new form of politics based on social and economic justice. The essay then charts the uprising’s demise amid protestor division, mass poverty and unemployment, galloping inflation, palpable insecurity, COVID-19 lockdowns, and external intervention. Hizbullah became the elephant in the room, with sectarian tension and some protestor resentment stoked by Trump’s US “maximum pressure” policies. A massive blast in Beirut’s port in August 2020 ended any lingering hope for reform and prompted Macron to personally unveil a stabilization plan through IMF neoliberal reforms, a carrot to Trump’s stick. The essay concludes that, one year on, Macron’s neoliberal plan is the only game in town, and protestors need to urgently remobilize for the struggles and catastrophic social realities ahead.
Lebanon’s October 2019 Uprising: From Solidarity to Division and Descent into the Known Unknown
Karim Makdisi is an associate professor of international politics and director of the Program in Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. He is coeditor, with Vijay Prashad, of The Land of the Blue Helmets: United Nations in the Arab World (2017).
Karim Makdisi; Lebanon’s October 2019 Uprising: From Solidarity to Division and Descent into the Known Unknown. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 April 2021; 120 (2): 436–445. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-8916176
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