Protesters face riot police in Beirut on April 28, 2020. (PHOTO: Patrick Baz / AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters face riot police in Beirut on April 28, 2020. (PHOTO: Patrick Baz / AFP via Getty Images)

Lebanon’s Protests: On Leadership, Decentralization and Hope

This has been on everyone’s mind since the protests broke out on October 17. To our disappointment however, few answers were fully convincing. Should we have organized amongst one another sooner? Or do we keep pushing with spontaneous protests? 

Organic protests were wonderful. Not having leadership makes it difficult for the government to target anyone with the usual threats or defamation campaigns. They spanned across all of Lebanon, more inclusive than ever. But this is not something limited to organic protests. They can be organized, but remain decentralized. 

The corrupt sectarian system is like another virus to deal with, constantly reminding us of our hostilities. Therefore, any attempt at change feels like a potential cure. 

So, when Lebanon demanded a new cabinet and early elections, how could we expect the virus to provide us with the very cure that would end the infection? Instead of positive change, we ended up with a new prime minister and a cabinet who have failed time and again to address the simplest of problems. 

The people have become so starved that their standards have degraded. Whenever the cabinet does the bare minimum, it’s considered to be such a significant improvement from the past. Worse yet, they now have legitimacy. We practically handed it to them when we let the current government choose for us and then “gave them a chance.” 

At the same time, we made a thousand excuses for our oppressors without giving a single chance to the hungry people fighting them. We need to have faith in each other and stop abandoning the struggle the moment a single thing doesn’t go exactly our way. A unified secular political presence must compete if we are to see genuine progress. 

No risk, no reward

Leadership and coordination would be important, not necessarily in a rigid hierarchy, to officially unify the demands of those who seek change and streamline the selection of a proper cabinet. They should be well-known experts, proven to be unaffiliated with Lebanon’s traditional sectarian parties. This may be challenging but not impossible. By doing so, the current government would have little room to legitimize a corrupt selection because the people have already made their choice loud and clear. 

This would require leaders willing to be placed under a potentially dangerous spotlight but unless more than a handful of individuals are willing to do so, things don’t look too promising. Because as incredible as Melhem Khalaf’s contributions have been, he is only one man. We cannot rely on him and other lawyers to fix all the country’s problems. Change requires capable individuals in other roles to step up as well, and Lebanon won’t be saved by one person .

But what about early elections? 

If we are to be rid of sectarianism, a key goal remains early elections. However, we have no guarantees that they will play out any differently than the last parliamentary elections that were held. 

International and independent oversight would be necessary in such a case to monitor elections and minimize electoral fraud. Although, it may be too early for us to even discuss this step.


Most importantly, the Lebanese people require guarantees. For now, the traditional sectarian parties provide them to their supporters in many forms, from career opportunities to money for school tuition. 

If we are to compete with that, we need to give them something as well –and I don’t mean to fall into the same corrupt system through which our politicians currently work. I’m talking about hope, a sense of optimism, security and long-term plans with benefits that encourage them to support those seeking concrete change. A clean, organized political force will provide that hope and we have no shortage of competent civil society actors to coordinate its creation.