Lebanon’s October Revolution
Article by Rana Sahar,
On November 11th, a soldier from the Lebanese army opened fire on protesters, killing Alaa Abou Fakhr, a 39 year old father of three who was a local official in the Progressive Socialist Party. Lebanese officials said that the soldier who killed Abou Fakhr opened fire to disperse protesters in order to open the roadway. Other sources indicate that Abou Fakhr was killed after an altercation with the soldier. The Lebanese Army announced that the military intelligence system had investigated the shooting and referred it to the relevant justice system. However, Amnesty International called for the civilian justice system to handle the investigation, noting that the killing of Alaa Abou Fakher, who was shot in the head while peacefully protesting, is a human rights violation which must be investigated by an impartial and independent court. This incident marked the first casualty during a month of peaceful nationwide protests that have brought Lebanon to a halt.
Sparked by a new tax measure in the midst of corruption and economic crisis, protesters have called for a change in political leadership as well as social and economic reform. Demonstrators have peacefully blocked roads and occupied public squares, calling for an end to sectarianism. Last month, approximately 170,000 protesters formed a human chain, which spanned 105 miles from Tripoli to Tyre and through Beirut, connecting Lebanon’s north and south in a show of unity. Although Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned last week, President Michael Aoun recently told protesters to go home and suggested that the citizens who did not like the current government could emigrate. Amnesty International has expressed concern over the failure of Lebanon’s law enforcement to protect civilians protesting peacefully during these demonstrations. Demonstrators have been attacked by government supporters without adequate intervention and protection by Lebanese security forces, who have themselves used excessive force to break up demonstrations. On October 29, supporters of the political establishment responded violently to demonstrators, setting fire to their tents in Beirut. In a separate incident, military forces shot rubber pellets and live ammunition at peaceful protesters in north Lebanon, causing injuries.
The right to peacefully protest, including by blocking public roads in demonstration, is internationally recognized, and use of unnecessary force violates international standards. The killing of Alaa Abou Fakhr is a tragic and threatening reminder of the violent crackdowns on protesters that began the unraveling of the Arab Spring. It should also be a reminder of the vulnerability of peace during nationwide protests and the duty of governments to safeguard it. The protests in Lebanon have produced a swell of hope for more meaningful and inclusive change in the region. Protesters thus far appear united across religious and class differences in calling for reforms. The continued resolve and unity of the protesters in the face of recent violence is encouraging, but those in power should do their utmost to protect them. That begins with holding soldiers accountable when they use fatal force unnecessarily.