|After a frustrating 10 years in Parliament and 7 years in successive governments, the Free Patriotic Movement(FPM) holds a mass rally to bring an end to corruption and Christian marginalisation.
As a show of national unity, people from all parts of Lebanon and from all religions came together in Beirut’s Martyrs Square on Friday 4th of September with the theme being “Only Elections Will Clean”. They were joined by artists, celebrities, civil activists, academics, reformers and professional/workers associations in a rally the size of which has not been seen in Lebanon in almost a decade.
The Change and Reform Bloc (lead by the FPM) has 27 MP’s in Lebanon’s 128-seat legislature and 4 ministers in the current government. Having made great achievement in previous ministries such as telecommunications, electricity, gas & oil exploration and education; they were met with sabotage and obstruction every step of the way by their political foes (and even some friends) who want to maintain their grip on the corrupt practices of the ruling class.
This rally is the culmination of decades of corruption since the end of the Lebanese War in 1990, where scandal after scandal was an everyday occurrence. The latest of which is the garbage crises, where trash is littering Lebanon’s streets uncollected due to stalwart politicians squabbling on which of their companies will get garbage collection contracts at inflated prices.
The garbage crisis spawned popular protests against the Lebanese government; which at first were suspiciously hijacked by a call that all politicians were corrupt and needed to quit rather than backing the reformers against the corrupt. Today’s rally put this popular uprising back on the right track.
The Change & Reform Bloc has often been criticised for not resigning from parliament, cabinet and still sitting at the same table as the corrupt ruling class. This criticism is often misdirected since the Bloc has been successful in preventing corruption even further from within the government as well as outside.
Lebanon’s flawed electoral law means that out of the 128 MP’s (64 Christian and 64 Muslim), the manipulation of certain districts results in less than half of the 64 Christian MP’s being actually elected by Christians. In addition to this, Lebanon has been without a President for nearly 18 months, a post reserved for Christians.
Lebanon’s Parliament (that elects the President) was elected in 2009 and was due for elections in 2013, however the majority of politicians voted to twice extend their mandate and gave themselves another term until 2017.
The FPM’s new leader, Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil addressed the crowds, “They thought that they could force us out of political life and squares, but we returned to this square and we will return it to all Lebanese,”.
“They want to deprive us of the dream and our dream is to have a state, not a farm. We are the sons of this land … We want a ‘clean’ president who does not cover up for corruption,”.
“We want a state enjoying 24/24 power supply through renewable energy. We want a state that has water resources, where dam projects are not suspended under the excuse of environmental concerns,” added Bassil, who once served as Energy and Water Minister and was opposed in every step he took to rectify Lebanon’s power shortages.
He called for a parliament that represents all citizens and regions and a cabinet that “does not violate the Constitution and laws.”
“Our dream is to have a strong army, security forces and resistance,” he said.
Bassil urged a state that has “a transportation system, telecommunications and services.”
“We the Lebanese should elect our president, not foreign forces. We won’t accept a ‘wooden president’ who does not understand people’s golden equation. We won’t accept a former PM who told us in cabinet that this country does not digest reform,” he added.
The FPM’s founder, General Michel Aoun MP gave a speech via a video link stating “I’m proud of you and I will remain proud because you have preserved the Free Patriotic Movement through your solidarity and loyalty … You heeded the call and I thank you for this glorious day, which will be the beginning of reform for our country,” he said.
Aoun reiterated earlier this week that the President should be elected directly by the people rather than an unrepresentative parliament.
Also noteworthy, was how well the protest was organised and the civilised manner in which it was carried out. No security incidents took place, no damage was done to any property and after the event, a group of volunteers stayed behind to clean up Martyrs Square leaving it in better condition than before the rally.
As one FPM activist pointed out “We always have been, continue to be and always will be a shining example for a civilised, strong and just society.”