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Human rights campaigner Samah Hadid discusses Hezbollah’s decision to switch from supporting the protests to opposing them, why the prime minister resigned, and why this is not enough to end the protests.

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GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Arlington, Virginia.

On Tuesday, as protests in Lebanon intensified, sources close to Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri told the media that Hariri intends to resign this week. On that same day, protesters in Lebanon created a human chain across the country whereupon Hariri tendered his resignation immediately that afternoon. As news of Hariri’s resignation hit the streets, protesters responded as follows:

LAMA LAWAND: We are a group of people, a spontaneous and peaceful movement. And the government has come and proved that no one can stand in front of the people’s will. As to what will happen after, the ball is in their court. We know what we want, and we want a transitional government and we want specialists and knowledgeable people that can take over, most importantly, the monetary file. And after that, we can have early parliamentary elections so that we can change things step by step.

GREG WILPERT: The protests in Lebanon aren’t over yet, but the country is experiencing a political transformation of tremendous proportions and there seems to be no turning back. Joining us to discuss this transformation is Samah Hadid from Beirut. She’s a campaigner, advocate, and writer as well as a commentator on human rights and humanitarian issues in the Middle East and Africa. Thanks for joining us today, Samah.

SAMAH HADID: Good to be with you.

GREG WILPERT: So when we covered the protest last week, it looked like Hezbollah supporters were part of the protest and there were protest deep in Hezbollah territory actually, in Sur–or Tyre. And then there was a big fight where Hezbollah supporters apparently attacked the protesters and Hezbollah Chairman Hassan Nasrallah pulled his supporters from the protest. How do you explain the sudden change in Hezbollah’s position with regard to the protests?

SAMAH HADID: Well firstly, what’s so unprecedented and remarkable about this protest movement is the way in which it has cut across different sectarian lines. It has brought together classes, religious groups, the North to the South. And people have for the first time come together United in their demand to revolt against the political elite and the political class, which they see as largely corrupt, exploitative, and really blocking change in Lebanon. And so we saw for the first time people chanting against their own leaders and that has included leaders across the entire political spectrum from the Hariri supporters right through to Hezbollah and Amal supporters. We’re seeing really fear being broken and this barrier of fear being lifted now and people being free to speak out against these leaders.

The pressure, of course, has started to bite. And we’re seeing this in the responses from political parties such as Hezbollah and Amal, where they have sent out their supporters, presumably sent out their supporters to attack the protest movement and protesters on the streets in the south but also in the capitol of Beirut. But people remain undeterred. If anything, the response has been to take to the streets in larger numbers. Whenever the protest movement is attacked by the political elite and their supporters, protesters have been really determined to hold their ground and continue their demands for the entire government, really, the entire economic system and political system to be overhauled.

GREG WILPERT: So you’re referred to the system, it is a protest against the political system in Lebanon but it’s one that basically is not an authoritarian dictatorship like in some other countries. And when protesters shouted, “The people want to overthrow the regime,” which is a direct quote from the 2011 Arab Spring, they apparently didn’t just mean to get rid of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. So what is this sectarian system and why do people want to get rid of it so badly?

SAMAH HADID: Well, it’s abundantly clear throughout the country, wherever I’ve traveled, particularly in the north but also in Beirut and what we’re seeing in the south is that people don’t want to just get rid of one leader. They want the entire political class to be replaced by a new generation of leaders who would put the national interests before their own self-interests. For decades now, Lebanon has been ruled through a sector-based power-sharing system where votes are allocated along religious communities and sectarian groups. Protesters now are fed up, frankly, with this system and are calling for a new electoral system that is fair, it’s modern and secular.

With the resignation of Prime Minister Hariri, what we’re hoping for now is a transitional arrangement where possibly technocrats and politically independent experts could form a transitional government that is able to address the financial and economic crisis that was looming before the protests took place, that is able to address public services and address the mismanagement that has been in place for decades now in the country. So with this, hopefully, this new transitional arrangement, a new law and policies can be put in place that would then lead the way to new elections.

GREG WILPERT: I just want to turn briefly to the international dimension of what’s going on. That is, you know, many international actors such as the state of Israel, Russia, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. all have a stake in the Lebanese sectarian system that we were just talking about. But so far there is no evidence of foreign intervention in the protests or in their repression it seems. Do you expect though that Israel or Syria or some other country might get involved to keep Lebanon from becoming more democratic?

SAMAH HADID: Well, Lebanon for years now has faced foreign interference, be it from Iran, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., the EU. It really has been a game of chess for regional forces and international governments to play with, but the protestors and the protest movement is clearly calling for a rejection of foreign interference. This is a local and organic movement that is aimed at creating an independent Lebanese identity and one that can create policies and an identity for this country that is locally based and is one that is carried by a civil society and the grassroots here.

I think the international community in terms of Western governments are being very cautious now. As of yet, they’ve backed the previous existing government, but that could change with the resignation of the prime minister, Hariri. We saw today that the Iranian regime are warning against chaos if these protests continue. So there are threats from international actors and regional forces, but the protest movement here, it is very, very clear about wanting this to remain independent and for the Lebanese citizens to decide the fate and future of Lebanon.

GREG WILPERT: And so finally, what do you expect to happen next in Lebanon?

SAMAH HADID: Well, we’re hoping that the new caretaker government can form a government of technocrats and experts that can address the economic and political crises that we’re facing. I think protesters will continue to take to the streets and ensure that real radical political change actually occurs, because people are fed up with the status quo and will not accept any sort of piecemeal reforms or measures. The issue and the uncertainty is around the economic and financial situation of the country, which is on the brink of collapse, and so we urgently need a new transitional arrangement and a government of politically independent experts to really take power and ensure that we’re moving in the right direction.

GREG WILPERT: Okay. So we’re going to have to leave it there for now, but I’m sure we’ll come back to you as soon as the situation in Beirut develops and becomes clearer. I was speaking to Samah Hadid, human rights campaign based in Beirut, Lebanon. Thanks again, Samah, for having joined us today.

SAMAH HADID: Thank you.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Gregory Wilpert is Managing Editor at TRNN. He is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he first taught sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). In 2014 he moved to Quito, Ecuador, to help launch teleSUR English. In early 2016 he began working for The Real News Network as host, researcher, and producer. Since September 2018 he has been working as Managing Editor at The Real News. Gregory's wife worked as a Venezuelan diplomat since 2008 and from January 2015 until October 2018 she was Venezuela's Ambassador to Ecuador.