My name is Mira Maalouf, I’m a Lebanese/Finnish student. I moved here from Lebanon almost a year ago to start my master’s degree in Social Psychology at the University of Helsinki.
I became interested in activism after becoming aware of all the corruption taking place within the Lebanese government. It would take way too much time for me to fully get into all the ways the government has lied to, and stolen from, the people, but the main point to know is that the same political parties have been controlling the government for decades, while manipulating the citizens and causing conflicts among them. Lebanon is a country of many different religions, and the politicians in power have been using this diversity to claim that they are protecting each religious group from the other.
With time, however, people have become more aware of what has been happening, and have taken to the streets to protest. Over a year ago, on October 17th, 2019, large protests began in Beirut, consisting of hundreds of thousands—and even millions—of people calling for all members of the government to resign. However, the politicians did not comply. And those who did resign, came back a year later, as if nothing had happened. With time, and due to several different circumstances—such as the coronavirus pandemic and police brutality—the protests were forced to die down. And the people were silenced once again.
With all this happening, the country has also been going through one of the worst economic crises in its history, with its local currency losing around 80% of its value, and all basic necessities becoming 3 to 4 times more expensive. Meanwhile, the politicians, worth billions of dollars, have managed to hide their stolen money in other countries, and live unaffected by the harsh circumstances that most of the Lebanese population is going through.
And then, on August 4th, the large explosion happened, also caused by the negligence and corruption of those same politicians. To this day, no one has resigned, no one has been arrested, and the investigation into what really happened stopped months ago. The people who lost their family members, homes, and businesses have not received any governmental help. The buildings and streets that were damaged have been partially restored only due to the citizens’ efforts, and the people, themselves, have been gathering donations for the ones in need. It’s a bittersweet idea—citizens having to rely on one another to survive in that country. And even now, with the coronavirus lockdowns happening, the government offers no financial help. With people forced to leave their homes to keep working, the number of cases and deaths has also been rising sharply.
Although November 22nd marks the 77th Lebanese Independence Day, most of the Lebanese people do not consider this day to be a day of celebration, nor do they consider themselves as truly independent. The situation in Lebanon is much more complicated than what I’ve managed to explain; it’s not completely due to internal conflicts. Other countries play a large role in increasing the tension in the area. So, it’s important to change the narrative around middle eastern countries; they’re not just poor countries always at war. Larger, more developed countries participate in proxy wars, to maintain control over the region. They promise financial help and protection, in return for more control over the resources and political power in middles eastern countries, such as Lebanon.
Because of this, it’s important to participate in awareness events to spread the news about what’s really happening in less developed countries. We may not cause any direct improvement to their situations, but at least we can publicly talk about issues that the people in those oppressive countries are forced to stay silent about. We can form international communities willing to spread facts, and to pressure our own governments into providing any form of aid.
When it comes to Lebanon, the entire political system needs serious reform. But until that happens, please keep talking about Lebanon and its people, and don’t forget about them.