North Africa, West Asia

In Lebanon: new waves of hatred with little solidarity

The needed solidarity with Mashrou’ Leila has unintentionally overshadowed the thousands of Palestinian voices demanding justice and a decent life.

Walid el Houri
23 July 2019
From a protest in Beirut against Lebanese Labor Minister's decision targeting Palestinian refugees. July 16, 2019.
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Picture by Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Lebanon's new ruling regime continues to set new lows in how to mismanage, sabotage and destroy the economy, environment and social fabric of a country already on the brink of collapse.

In the past weeks, a number of seemingly disconnected events have set the agenda of the political conversation and action in the country.

The first was the hate campaign against Syrian refugees launched by the country's first son-in-law, foreign minister and head of the president's party, the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil who posted a number of racist tweets and statements leading to a hate campaign targeting Syrian workers and refugees across the country. This campaign coincided with similar voices calling for sectarian segregation of an already divided country.

Soon after, another hate campaign followed, this time against foreign labor including and targeting Palestinian refugees who already suffer from severe discrimination when it comes to their rights in the country as refugees. This campaign led by the country's minister of Labor makes the lives of Palestinians even more difficult than it already was in a country that is very vocal about support for Palestine while being very proficient in oppressing, mistreating and exploiting Palestinians.

The campaign spearheaded by the Lebanese rightwing party the 'Lebanese Forces' led to mass protests inside the Palestinian refugee camps as the Lebanese state was quick to suppress any protests outside the military controlled camps. Meanwhile, the Lebanese army was quick to launch a violent crackdown against Palestinians.

A third event was a campaign against Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila, launched by various Christian clergymen who were later joined by many other voices offended and outraged at the band's support for LGBTIQ rights and the messages that they promote. Threats, anger, and obscurantist calls for a ban abound.

The three events, in addition to many others, share many aspects and are emblematic of the new Lebanese state logic. To start, they are all clear hate campaigns looking to mobilise the population against a demonised other. They hold the core attributes of right wing populism and while they garner much attention among the general public, they first and foremost divert the attention of the population from the countless scandals, failures, and mismanagement that are plaguing the country.

Meanwhile a 7 months late budget for 2019 has just been approved which will likely lead to more impoverishment, more corruption, and more decay.

In short they are part of a bankrupt political discourse in a bankrupt country, where the ruling parties compete to find the best enemy and the scariest scarecrow in order to boost their popularity: the Syrians, the Palestinians, the LGBTIQ community, etc...

The "strong era", the self-given name to President Michel Aoun's rule, is clearly strong only against the most vulnerable of people living under its rule while being powerless or refusing to exercise any power against those who are actively destroying the social and economic fabric of the country - namely the ruling establishment itself.

In other words, as long as these enemies are the most vulnerable, those in power are safe and can count on Lebanese popular support.

The campaign against Mashrou’ Leila, has expectedly received much attention due to the band's popularity in Lebanon, the region, and the world. It has also served the purpose of covering what little solidarity there was among the Lebanese population with the rightful protests by Palestinians in the country or diverting attention from the mistreatment and forceful return of Syrian refugees.

Using the classical arguments of the band's disrespect of religion and the sacred, calls for debauchery and deviance, the attacks were reminiscent of similar attacks against the band in Egypt and Jordan where not only were they banned but in Egypt, their concert led to the arrest of over 50 people and a ruthless crackdown against the LGBTIQ community in the country.

The Lebanese national discourse is often lost in a superiority complex claiming pride in being a beacon of diversity and openness in a region rife with oppression, while at the same time using all the same logics of repression and aversion to diversity and freedoms in practice.

Lebanon is all about respecting diversity only when this diversity falls within the confines of what the ruling patriarchal, conservative power structure accepts: religions are respected but as long as each sect remains confined to their spaces of influence, without mixing or intermingling. This diversity does not include however any undesirable groups that do not fall within the sectarian confines of the ruling establishment: non-white foreigners, refugees, non-religious groups, and gender non-conforming peoples or non-heterosexual sexual identities, etc.

The various hate campaigns are not isolated events, and fall under a general direction and a clear state policy.

That being said, it is of utmost importance to express solidarity with the band, but such solidarity should be inclusive. It should extend to all other groups subjected to hate campaigns and different forms of repression be it by the church, the muslim religious establishment, wide sectors of society, the state, or the media which has been a shameful partner for all the above powers rather than exposing them and providing a critical discourse or better yet speak truth to power.

As expected, the waves of solidarity with the well known band have overshadowed the thousands of Palestinian voices demanding justice and a decent life in a country they have been forced to live in for over 70 years.

A statement of solidarity published earlier this week garnered no more than 6 signatures from Lebanese civil society organisations with most others remaining largely silent.

In a country where daily racism is a norm, where racial and class aggression is a rule, and where oppression hides behind various empty slogans, is there a possibility for inclusive solidarity?

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