Man in face mask walks past a mural that reads "We Are Tired" in Tripoli, Lebanon. (Photo: AFP)
Man in face mask walks past a mural that reads "We Are Tired" in Tripoli, Lebanon. (Photo: AFP)

Counter-hegemony in Tripoli: Dispelling years of militarism & demonization

With the commencement of a second wave of protests across regions in Lebanon, demonstrators have proceeded to challenge the government-enforced lockdown as the currency crisis deteriorates and overall price levels skyrocket. 

Accordingly the government and presidency have attempted to mobilize forces in Baabda Palace in the pursuit of gaining support for a harsh government plan largely meant to satisfy the conditions of the IMF. In the meantime, the government has apparently raised concerns over the contested role of the Central Bank. 

On the other hand, while often using health alarms as an excuse, the military has noticeably expanded its efforts to crackdown on protesters, rioters, and activists in general. Accordingly, torture, intimidation, and discreet locking up of activists were put forth as strategies to instill vast fear in the population. 

However, it is no surprise that the military boot generally acts in a discriminatory function, taking into account that regions with poorer infrastructure, less reach, and weaker bonds of inter-connected solidarity relatively face the most painful forms of coercion.  

The neoliberal economic planning and militaristic hegemony Tripoli is resisting today is deeply rooted in perceptions of Tripoli since the 1990s and straight through the contentious dynamics of the Arab Spring. In truth, the military boot has been bullying Tripoli for too long, and was accordingly bound to face fierce resistance. 

Tripoli and Lebanon’s second wave 

Besides the painful economic plan prepared by the cabinet, which stressed austerity measures, raising value-added tax, and gradual liberation of the exchange rate, the Central Bank’s circulars were another important stimulant for the anger permeating the streets last month. 

The circulars largely revolve around tactics utilized by the Central Bank to absorb as much dollar currency as reserves, leaving the population with an excess quantity of local lira currency. Not only does this have dire effects on the value of the lira, but it also paves the way for a de-facto haircut on people’s cash inflows. 

Accordingly, the loudest voices that resisted the lockdown and expressed dissatisfaction with the aforementioned policies were prevalent outside of Beirut, most notably Tripoli, Akkar, and Saida. 

In much of these areas, the protests, contrary to the commencement of the October 17 uprising, erupted with precarious youth and residents “violating” the enforced general mobilization, rioting in front of banks and exerting pressure by all means. 

In Tripoli’s week of rage towards the end of April, the burning down of several banks responsible for trapping the earnings and savings of small depositors paved the way for an indiscriminate wave of repression at the hands of the Lebanese army and the internal security forces. 

Following the murder of demonstrator Fawaz Al-Samman by means of an army bullet, Tripolitan anger escalated and the area once again rose to national attention. Human Rights Watch, after preparing an extensive report on the issue, demanded that the army follow a prompt and effective investigation, and make sure to abide by international declarations.

Whereas some politicians attempted to hijack Fawaz’s death, these attempts largely failed due to the extensive involvement of his close family members in left-wing opposition movements since October 17. 

“Till until the downfall of the rule of sects and banks, a promise for Fawaz,” writes Fatima Fouad, an active protester challenging unfair capital control policies of commercial banks. 

According to an ESCWA report on the city released in 2015, the vast majority of its residents are either deprived or extremely deprived, and a very tiny minority live within small pockets of luxury. 

Despite certain recommendations put forth since then, the economic deterioration of the country overall meant that living in Tripoli has generally become unbearable. With the current crisis and pandemic, it is no surprise that precarious youth, the unemployed, and street vendors are giving little-to-no attention to health concerns when the areas’s basic means to live have become absent. 

Inter-regional solidarity: “From all of Lebanon to Tripoli”

In light of the isolation experienced by the city’s residents, individuals and groups inspired by or participated in the October revolution came from all over Lebanon to visit Tripoli in a solidarity march. 

“I don’t think solidarity is the best term that applies here. At this time, we are looking at a more fused reality in which all regions are being affected by the repressive state, and so a unified resistance is forming across these regions,” said activist and demonstrator Rawan Nassif.

Commencing at Al-Nour square, the march headed towards Fawwaz Al-Samman’s house while chanting against growing inequality and the country’s increasingly militaristic institutions. Most importantly, the protesters emphasized the grotesque and asymmetric ill-treatment faced by Tripolitans during the revolution. 

“Particularly with the amount of hardship faced by the residents of Tripoli, I think it has become obvious to many within the revolution that this deliberate marginalization [of the city] has racist and discriminate connotations,” she continued.

“With regards to the last convoy to Tripoli, while it is to some extent a solidarity protest, it is also more of a reminder that Tripoli isn’t a separate or different entity than any other region in the country. Like every other region, it has a variety of forms of expressing rightful anger against the status quo.”

Persistent isolation: The city in history 

In truth, the tense relationship between Tripoli and the military is not solely a contemporary event, but has conditions rooted in history. The contentious attitude towards Tripoli consistently coincides with the rise of army hysteria in times of conflict and insecurity. 

Incidents familiar to Tripoli’s current youth participants in the revolution include the Bab al-Tabbaneh–Jabal Mohsen conflicts, which intensified with the commencement of anti-regime protests in Syria in 2011.

Amplified by Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria alongside the Assad regime, the city’s largely convoluted human and sect-based solidarity with the increasingly islamicized Syrian revolution induced racist and sectarian perceptions of the city’s people. 

Neglecting the need for genuine human and economic development of the area, the government aggravated the situation by reinforcing clientalist relations and transforming the city into a military zone amid confrontations between the army and Islamist militant groups. 

Accordingly, the people of Tripoli were obliged to prove their loyalty to the state and its military institutions or risk being associated with the Islamic State (IS) and other local fundementalist groups. 

However, this is not necessarily surprising for most residents as experiences of armed conflict and authoritarian military control of the city have predominated the scene since the Dinnieh clashes of the 1990s

Poverty, the military boot, and the need to prove your loyalty to the army are, to an extent, not attributes which solely apply to the case of Tripoli. Since the Arab Spring, a recurrent conflict between army power and rising Islamist formations has paved the way for a harsh dichotomy for those demanding lessening the former. 

This begs the question: When will Tripoli, 9 years after the Arab Spring, be able to resist the military boot, bigoted racial and sectarian perceptions, and the reactionary forces capitalizing on their mistreatment? The answer lies in the counter-hegemonic popular and spontaneous forces which emerged on October 17.