The popular protests against government corruption and failure in Lebanon and Iraq brought back memories of the Arab Spring that emerged four years ago. They remind us of when the popular uprisings demanded change — even insisted upon it — and sacrificed everything to get it. The uprisings suggested that there is “something” in many Arab youths which refuses to surrender despite all of the counter-revolutionary efforts being made (locally and regionally) to distort the idea that popular movements and protests are a spontaneous tool for the rejection of the status quo.
In addition, the current protests in Lebanon and Iraq highlight, once again, economic and social issues as the main driving force for the popular rejection, while providing the possibility of overcoming political and ideological factionalism for the sake of a common goal. This is the same concept that was behind the Arab Spring, starting a wave of economic-social protests with the aim of achieving equality and justice, which soon developed into a political issue, calling for freedom, dignity and democracy.
The latest protests, regardless of whether they are successful in achieving their goals, confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that the “seed” of the Arab Spring that was planted four years ago is still alive and refuses to die. It also confirms that all of the deception of the counter-revolution and its various arms and agencies have not succeeded in killing and burying the demand for change. It is astonishing that most of these protests, just like the ones four years ago, do not have a specific “head” and do not follow a specific leader; they are spontaneous and began in the streets. Large groups of people interacted and responded in the belief that demonstrations and protests are the only way to demand change.
In his book Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East, Asef Bayat writes about his belief that “ordinary people in the street” are the secret to changing the situation in the region. This reflects his loss of confidence in the political elites and his effort to bypass them in his search for the solutions to his problems, either by changing them or changing the social, economic and political structures that produce them. One of the most important issues that he points out in his book, which seems to be very clear from the current protests, is the matter of “non-social movements”, which have become a distinctive characteristic within the social movement over the past few years. These “non-movements” have become an effective player with an impact on the “demand for change” scene in the region. They gather suddenly, without any warning, and make specific demands that may develop towards a comprehensive agenda, depending on the development of the situation in each case. These “non-movements”, which usually surprise the elites and politicians with their emergence, are often a microcosm of the revolutions and uprisings as they carry pure demands that are related to the people and their daily situation. Perhaps what distinguishes these “non-movements” is that they contain large groups of people who are marginalised politically, economically and socially, such as the poor, women, students, workers and so on.
What is occurring in Lebanon and Iraq thus seems interesting. On the one hand, it is surprising for there to be protests and demonstrations about economic and social issues in two countries known for their sectarian divisions and disputes. Perhaps this was an important factor that drove various groups to try to overcome these divisions and call for general demands with a common agenda.
On the other hand, most of these protests are still relatively peaceful. This may be what attracts people to them for now, and why they have influence. This calls for some consideration, especially since we are talking about two countries in which it would not be difficult to resort to violence and arms in an effort to resolve a political dispute. This has still not been the case amongst the new protestors, especially in Lebanon. Furthermore, the protests in Lebanon and Iraq are occurring at a time when many believed that the idea of protests and demonstrations had lost their appeal following the destruction, oppression and violence across the region. This confirms the mistake of those who rely on intimidating and scaring the Arab public and pushing them back into submission and obedience.
Hence, we are facing a driving, popular force that does not give weight to results and consequences as much as it does to trying to restore confidence in itself and its ability to influence, mobilise and exert political and social pressure. Regardless of what the current protests will result in, they have confirmed that the “seeds” of the Arab Spring that were scattered four years ago are still implanted deep within the younger Arab generation, which will yield change sooner or later.