Protesters gathered in front of the Lebanese consulate in Montreal last Friday in solidarity with the uprising that started on Thursday in Lebanon.
Montreal joined many other cities like New York and London in this solidarity movement, where protesters chanted anti-government chants in Arabic like “Montreal to Beirut, we want to kick out every jerk.”
“We’re trying to show Lebanese people that we are with them and we stand by them and we are all against the government and what it’s doing,” said Dhalia Nazha, the event organizer in Montreal.
The small 10,500 square kilometer country has entered its biggest protest since the garbage crisis in 2015. Citizens are denouncing corruption among government officials and calling for the government’s resignation.
The protest sparked up after the government announced new taxes including one on the use of messaging apps during a major economic crisis. However, the decision was quickly retracted by officials amid the reaction of the population.
But it’s not all about Viber and WhatsApp. The regional turmoil in the Middle East has been affecting Lebanon’s economy for decades. The country now ranks third in debt levels worldwide at $113 billion US or 150 per cent of its GDP according to Trading Economics.
“They steal from the taxes, they steal all the money and they don’t renovate and don’t do any construction in Lebanon,” said Nazha about the current government. “We don’t have any recycling facilities, there’s a lot of pollution and they don’t try to tackle it in what way whatsoever.”
The country struggles to this day for better infrastructure even after billions invested since the end of the civil war in 1990. Citizens deal with daily electricity cuts, trash piling on the streets and limited water supplies from the state-owned water company, according to the Associated Press.
Many Lebanese chose to flee those conditions in search of a better alternative. Some that chose Montreal as their new home took part in the protest.
“I didn’t have a job or education, because education is really expensive in Lebanon, so I was forced to move here for better life conditions,” said Najib Issa, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering student at Polytechnique.
Job shortages and poor salaries also pushed Chantal Stephan to flee her home country. Stephan said she moved to Canada in 2004 to raise her three children who were there with her, all waving small Lebanese flags and chanting along with the crowd.
“I graduated in Lebanon and I didn’t manage to find a decent job, so I decided to move here to work and be well paid,” said Stephan. “Even with my master’s degree, I couldn’t find a decent job [in Lebanon].”
But there is a feeling of hope for the future of the small Middle Eastern country. This is one of the first apolitical, non-religious movements in Lebanon. The Lebanese population has been divided by political and religious affiliations for the past decades.
“We need to unite all together and stop to follow politicians that are controlling us by the tip of our noses,” said Stephan. “It’s important to stay all united because after all, we all want is the good of the country.”
Nazha, Issa and Stephan think this protest is the beginning of a big change that will enable them to reunite with their roots.
“I’m here tonight for my brothers, sisters, parents and every Lebanese that are still in Lebanon,” said Issa. “We’re only defending and reclaiming our rights. And now, we finally have a chance to come back to our country.”
Feature photo by Jad Abukasm