“Lets call it a revolution, O my people”
At 10am teachers and students decided this would not be just another manic Monday: they took to the streets turning them into a country-wide classroom with the kick-off of The Syndicate Coordination Committee open-ended strike and demonstrations. This is the second week of teachers’ protests and this one was on the steps of the Central Bank followed by a march to cabinet ministries in Hamra street.
Nehme Mahfouz, addressing SCC protesters near the Central Bank, claimed “We are not thugs. We are keen to safeguard the country more than the politicians”. The protesters replied to Mahfouz: “Lets declare it a revolution O my people” and the chants grew louder. “Toot, toot to Beirut the state employee will never die”.
The peaceful protest was met with disproportionate security deployment to secure the Central Bank and make sure they pushed people off the scarce patches of green grass at the entrance of the huge bank complex. At first the riot police in heavy gear erected metal fences to prevent protesters from holding their sit-in at the main entrance of the Bank. However, the peaceful nature of the protest and the teachers’ way of talking convinced the security officer to remove the fence; in their joy at this small victory, as one, the protesters rushed to the steps of the Central Bank.
Approximately one-thousand protesting teachers and students came from across Lebanon demanding their right to press the cabinet to refer the new wage scale to the parliament. Protesters emphasized that their struggle does not aim at paralyzing the country but is a battle of rights and equality. “The battle is between the SCC and the cabinet. It’s not with the public institutions and administrations of schools”. Mahfouz reassured the rest of the Lebanese society and refuted claims by some private school owners who spread defamation concerning today’s teachers’ calls for strike. Mahfouz, representative of the private school teachers association, addressed protesters saying “the SCC officials will hold a meeting later in the day to form committees to convince the schools that didn’t abide by the strike to close on Tuesday”.
Najah Nameh, 42, a history teacher at the protest wondered: “where is the minister of education? Why he is not with us today?” She later added: “maybe he is chatting on Whatsapp, thats all he does”. Today was Najah’s first time taking part in the SCC protest and she said “I never thought that we might be able to achieve anything through protests and at first I thought of it to be just another protest in a country whose politicians never listen to the street. Coming to the protest today proved me wrong, these teachers are my colleagues, they too have families and responsibilities, we are all suffering from the same thing. Today, I think, if we continue in this spirit we will force them (politicians) to listen to us and give us our rights”.
Today, in addition, the Technical Schools Syndicate joined the strike and warned the Economic Committees that they will force their businesses and factories to shut in order to pressure the government to refer the wage scale to parliament. Before the representative left the podium he revealed: “We have a Students Syndicate of 40,000 across the country who will be joining in protests and the pressure on the government”.
Teachers at the protest today were galvanized by the fact that 90 percent of public and private schools were closed. The turn out and the impact of the strike on the country created a spirit of determination for tomorrow there will be more taking it to the Ministry of Economy in Downtown Beirut. At the end of the protest Mahfouz revealed that 27 demonstrations will be staged on Tuesday across Lebanon, reminding the protesters about the central sit-in which will be held on Wednesday at the same time as a cabinet session.
However today’s protest was not merely a teachers’ protest, this was a start of a series of challenges and struggles against a government no better than the ones before it: a government busy facilitating the businesses and interests of a handful of rich Lebanese leaving the rest of us to the unknown. Today there was a remarkable feeling of unity amongst the Lebanese that were there: people left their sects, and confessions behind, confirming to us all that economical injustice doesn’t favor one sect over another. Maybe thats why there was no presence of the forces of international media? For this kind of protests do not produce titles such as Lebanon on the brink of collapse or their favorite nowadays: conflict in Syria spills into Lebanon. A much needed headline that could be written about today is Lebanon on the brink of unity.
Two days later
Lebanese people came together again on Wednesday leaving behind their sects and their sectarian leaders. In an unusual scene of unity in turbulent Lebanon ordinary Lebanese citizens crawled from across the country and marched shoulder by shoulder from Barbir to the Serail (Cabinet house). The name of the protest for today was dubbed: Crawl to Beirut.
The Syndicate Coordination Committee announced today that this will be the start of the “Revolution of the poor and hungry”. The crawlers descended from Barbir to the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut growing in numbers and louder they chanted: “From Barbir to Serail O Mikati yala bye bye”.
This was one of the biggest economical protests in Lebanon since the 70s. At the march today there were people participating in a protest for the first time in their lives touched by the feeling of unity. Mr Said Jamal an Arabic teacher at a boys high school in Akkar said “ Now I know what a protest feels like. I’m used to watching it on TV channels from Tahrir in Egypt and other Arab countries but today is our turn in Lebanon to take to the streets”. The young teacher in his mid 30s resented the government and the negligence of teachers “ we have the most important job in this country. Its our responsibility to bring up educated generations who will further this country but the 900,000 L.L I get paid as a teacher kills my enthusiasm and dedication in my classroom”.
A group of teachers led by an elderly women who chanted bitterly: “What a shame, what a shame; our government is for the traders (tojar): may god send them to the fire”.
Today marked the second protest in Beirut in a series of teachers strikes and protests that started last week. last Monday the SCC held their first protest at the Central Bank in Beirut while across Lebanon similar protests were held next to the municipalities of cities and towns.
The strikes and protests are ongoing daily until the SCC’s demands are answered by the government.