Garbage overflows from landfills and perfumes the highways. Lebanon’s Mediterranean beaches are scattered with trash, its waters often too polluted for safe swimming.
When a swath of beloved mountain forests burned last week, it came as a disappointment, but not exactly a shock, to discover that the government had failed to maintain the firefighting helicopters that could have limited the destruction.
“If you wanted to give this a name, it would be the ‘uprising of dignity’ — people taking back their dignity because it’s so humiliating to be a citizen of Lebanon under this ruling class,” said Nizar Hassan, the co-host of the Lebanese Politics Podcast. “You know that the country can be doing much better than this, you know you’re not responsible for how bad the situation is, and yet these people just keep on dividing us and taking actions against our interests.”
The protests began last Thursday after the government announced a new tax on previously free internet-based calls made over popular services including WhatsApp, spontaneously igniting demonstrations from Beirut to Tripoli in the north and Tyre in the south.
From the start, the protesters included people from every religious background and class who did not spare their own communities’ leaders from mocking chants, the more unprintable the better. Though every major politician has now had his name conjoined to a curse word, one — involving the country’s foreign minister and aspiring president, Gebran Bassil, and his mother — has become the rude jingle of the revolt, its distinctive rhythm even spawning an operatic rendition.
“They should be in prison,” said Josiane Haddad, 23, a psychology student. “All of them, no exceptions.”
All week, a strange mood has gripped the country, hovering somewhere between a holiday and the mad scramble to prepare for a hurricane. People were euphoric, at first like schoolchildren granted a surprise snow day and then like riders on an untested roller coaster, the drop somewhere out of sight.