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Walls Protecting Govt. HQ, Parliament Turn into Spaces for Lebanese Protester Expression

Walls Protecting Govt. HQ, Parliament Turn into Spaces for Lebanese Protester Expression

Monday, 17 February, 2020 - 11:00
Lebanese security forces use water cannon to disperse protesters gathered in the heart of Beirut to stop a confidence vote for a new government. (AFP)
Beirut - Paula Astih

Downtown Beirut, specifically Riad al-Solh Square, has served as the main stop for the citizens who took to the street on October 17 and afterward to demand the overthrow of the ruling elite and holding those who have been in power since the 1990s accountable. To this day, every inch tells the story of the ongoing uprising, though with less momentum, as a result of economic and financial deterioration that has pushed hundreds from the streets in pursuit of means of subsistence.

The tents that supporters of the parties in power tried time and time again to burn down are still there around the statue of the Prime Minister of Lebanon’s independence, Riad al-Solh, even though their tenants are only a handful. The stories they tell about the four months of struggle are many. The stories told by the walls leading to the square sound nothing like the stories told by anyone else. Here, activists have carved their slogans. On one wall, they drew a prison holding party leaders dressed up in prison clothes.

The activists have turned one of the walls into the “Wall of the Revolution”. It spans from the ESCWA building to Riad al-Solh and has become a tourist destination for Lebanese and foreigners and the main site for taking photographs.

The “Wall of the Revolution” was put up before the uprising, as part of the security measures to protect the ESCWA building. The move was met with fierce opposition at the time. Concrete blocks were since added and turned into a wall spanning Riad al-Solh Square to prevent protesters from accessing the main entrance to the Grand Serail government headquarters. This has effectively crippled movement in the area and the nearby banks street. The banks themselves have been subject to several assaults by protesters opposed to new banking policies. One frequent slogan on the walls reads “Down with the rule of banks”.

Parliament, access to which is also blocked by barriers, remains the main target of the protesters ever since they started their movement. They consider that it is their right to reach it, firmly rejecting any security measure taken in recent years to keep citizens away from it. In the early days of the revolt, people had focused their attention on the Grand Serail, but after Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation in late October, they have since set their sights on the parliament building.

Parliament guards had blocked all the entrances that lead to the legislature that were open before October 17. Concrete blocks were brought in and the protesters have also since turned them into canvasses for cursing the regime. During heightened tensions, the protesters threw fragments of the concrete wall at security forces as they attempted to breach the barrier.

Sarah Younis, 33, one of the activists who are are closely following the popular movements, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The scene in Downtown Beirut today is the strongest evidence that the officials are afraid of the people, and that they hereafter only represent themselves and a minority of people who hold onto them for sectarian reasons.”

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