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The regional upheaval that has been shaping the Middle East since 2010 has brought the Arab public, especially the Arab youth who have been leading the protests and revolutions, to the fore. The Arab Middle East, on its concomitant leaders and populations, has entered a new era. Throughout the squares and streets, many young Arabs learn how to re-define the social, political and economic reality within which they aspire to live. The regional resurgence of youth activism has reached Lebanon relatively late, but as on October 2019 it has manifested its full power, hope and determination for change throughout the country.
The protests that take place in Lebanon (since October 2019) are as unique as the state in which they unfold- a state that for many years was considered the pearl of the Arab Middle East. Many young Lebanese gathered united under one flag and one melody that plays the fascinating unfolding of new Lebanese nationalism. After long decades throughout which the corrupted ruling elites have done whatever they could in order to etch factious identity politics, it seems as if the Lebanese public embraces the ‘other’ and reconstructs its national – collective – identity. Hence, the ongoing protests in Lebanon not only depict a desperate (and some might even say, recycled) attempt to bring about the establishment of a new political system; but rather a gradual construction of a new Lebanese order.
And still, the continuation and further deepening of the square crisis in Lebanon (social, economic, political and health) has often tricked the Lebanese public’s confidence in the prospects of constructing a new socio-political order in their homeland. The social distance instructions, that were ordered due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus in Lebanon has returned the protesting public to their homes and a sigh of relief could be heard among the political elites. Nevertheless, the protesting public has kept its belief that the worsening of the economic crisis and the disintegration of the traditional order in Lebanon are inevitable. Pushing the protests away from the Lebanese streets to the social media was only temporary.
It was only a matter of time, or trigger, that the protests will prevail the Lebanese landscape again. The deteriorating value of the Lebanese currency gradually brought the protesters, once again and despite the demand for social distancing, back on the streets. As if all of that did not suffice, the tragic explosion in the Lebanese national port (August 2020) seemed to be the last straw; the spark that set it all on fire – figuratively and practically. Rather than having the public ‘united around the flag’, the explosion amplified the conceptual gap between the public and its leadership and amplified the need for taking the protests to the next level - the Lebanese people were angry, frustrated and all the more determined to bring about change – by themselves. Lebanon’s socio-political landscape and the dynamics that shape its course have changed.
The hopeful environment that characterized the Lebanese’s aspiration for constructing a non-sectarian unity was replaced by an environment filled with desperation, frustration and pessimism. The new Lebanese nationality has worn a new face – the face of a warrior that fights for its character and future – and this time all means are justified. The unfolding of new Lebanese nationality and its (violent) determination to constitute the new organizing principle of the new Lebanese order, has started to trouble Hezbollah, which ever since its political institutionalization within Lebanon’s political has been holding the country captive without any substantial interference. The new phase to which the protests have entered has included turning the ‘flames’ to Hezbollah as well and the organization has found itself in complicated strategic trap which challenges its ability to sustain the status quo that has allowed it, for decades, to influence the political system (‘from behind’) and to keep cultivating its special position as a political party that holds a militarized militia. Nonetheless, despite the troubling environment, Hezbollah not only keeps functioning within the ongoing disorder, but also further deepens its socio-political hold, consciously and practically, alongside its continuous preparation for its future confrontation with Israel.