As in Chile five years ago, or in Spain a decade ago. The youth movements that have led massive protests in Lebanon in recent years against a status quo that relegates them hope to capitalize this Sunday at the polls on the discontent with the traditional party system. The alternative is the exodus to Western and Gulf countries in search of a future denied them by a failed state. With an unemployment rate of almost 48% among young people, undertaking a vital project today seems unfeasible in Lebanon, where 8 out of 10 citizens (twice as many as three years ago) live below the poverty line and the pound, the local currency, has been devalued by more than 90% since the start of the crisis, in October 2019. “Expatriates, send funds to Lebanon!”, a poster at the Beirut airport pleads with those who depart in search of better fortune .
Verena el Amil, 26 years old, lawyer, master’s degree in Comparative Law from the Sorbonne University, has not left. “I stay to fight for an alternative to chaos. There is the possibility of continuing to live in our country, ”she explains with a smile in her house in Ain Saadet, on the slopes of Mount Lebanon, on the outskirts of Beirut. She is running for that Maronite Christian constituency with the Generation of Change party, within the broad coalition of opposition forces Towards a State. “We want a normal country: secular and without confessional politics; with full equality between men and women, a rule of law with separation of powers and with a single personal statute of civil rights, compared to the current 15 for each religious community, some of which admit child marriage”, summarizes its program.
Like many of the nearly 300 alternative candidates, —40% of all those who run for the legislative elections—, El Amil cut his teeth in politics as a prominent spokesperson in the camps of the Martyrs’ Square in Beirut, the epicenter of a revolt against the party regime that emerged after the civil war that bled Lebanon between 1975 and 1990. “It was like a dream come true,” this young woman longingly recalls the days of the Thawrah (revolution) of 2020, with echoes of French May 1968. Converted into a candidate for one of the 128 seats in Parliament, she has dared to take the step of trying to transform the ideas of change into applicable norms.
More than prescriptions for gradual reforms, Lebanon needs a shock treatment to survive. It is already a failed state, declared on Wednesday the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Severe Poverty, Olivier De Schutter, who blames the bankruptcy of the political and financial elite of the country of the Mediterranean Levant. “Impunity, corruption and inequality have led to a venal political and economic system,” warns this independent expert, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. “Political leaders are totally out of touch with the reality of the desperate daily life of 80% of the population, where more than half of families admit that their children have to skip a meal a day.” For more than a million Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian exiles, the situation is even more untenable. De Schutter also warns about the “absence of social protection mechanisms” in the face of the failure of public services such as health or electricity supply.
From a balcony overlooking the coast of the Lebanese capital 15 kilometers away and 650 meters above sea level, Verena el Amil believes that the time has come to settle accounts with “the blackmail” suffered by the Lebanese, and in particular his generation, because of the party system that distributes power: the presidency of the nation for a Christian; the position of Prime Minister for a Sunni Muslim, and that of Speaker of Parliament for a Shia Muslim. And that he tolerates the existence of “illegitimately armed militias”, such as the pro-Iranian Hezbollah.
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“All Lebanese women, from all religious communities, suffer the same discrimination: we cannot pass on our nationality to our children, men can,” stresses the candidate for Generation for Change. “On August 4, 2020 [fecha de la explosión que devastó el puerto de Beirut] We said ‘Enough! We can no longer continue like this”, concludes one of the youngest candidates in the elections. “The threat that they have imposed on us – to maintain the current regime at all costs under penalty of falling into a new civil war – no longer makes sense after more than 30 years of corruption and misgovernment.”
Young Beiruts wear their best clothes while walking, connected to mobile phones, with Mediterranean indolence through a decaying metropolis, once a pearl of the Mediterranean risen from the ashes of a fratricidal feud. Beggars of all ages harass drivers under a tangle of power lines strung from blaring diesel generators. Legal tender bills have up to five zeros. Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Arab Emirates are now the destinations for thousands of young Lebanese professionals to rise from the shipwreck of a failed state. The pandemic and the endless crisis have put an end to the protests of the Thawrah. Now those who occupied the makeshift camps and barricades have the first opportunity to resolve at the polls the dilemma between remaining in Lebanon or fleeing without looking back.
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