One of the most enduring legacies of classical Greek history is the tragedies articulated in varied contexts. The significance of the Greek tragedies can be gauged from the respect they command with profound historical inquiries and serves as a persistent referential point in contemporary political commentaries and rhetoric. The essential feature of the Greek tragedies lay in their penetrative insights about human nature and the fundamentals of the political organization of the state and society; the character of political power and the ethos which constitute it; the essence of the human spirit and the disposition of the political order to organize human affairs.
The tragedy in Lebanon which has been unfolding swiftly at least since October of last year is the reminiscence of the political tragedies in classical Greek history. Corrupt political class failing to deliver essential security of commerce and diet to the public, an acute paucity of the adherence to the constitutional order, international powers jockeying for influence as political elites are infighting in a quest for survival in the power games – all of this leading toward more structural repression, economic fallout, social instability, and shared sentiments of mass revolt.
In post-civil war Lebanon, the constitutional order which shaped the political framework in which contesting political factions – Shiite, Sunnis, and Christians – in Lebanon are accommodated into the new power structure with a delicate balance of power among three most important political forces of the country. This constitutional order was hoped to ensure shared development and national harmony among Lebanese. This order is crumbling, it is dying, it is faltering. The political order which was supposed to enrich the public with social welfare, economic development, and mass stability had morphed into a gargantuan of mass enrichment of its political class at the expense of the population.
Similar to a house of cards, this order came to its edge, to its breakpoint, in two distinct episodes within an intermission of merely a few months. In later 2019, amidst an intensely-tensed atmosphere between people and the coalition government, three successive events lead to mass protests by the public: The currency crisis, wildfire crisis, and the imposition of now-scrapped WhatsApp tax. These series of crises inspired mass protests by a public long-enduring chronic economic pain for years. The protest persisted and increased in intensity until the heralding of the coronavirus pandemic. It did impact the spread of the protests but the intensity continually rages even in the severe public health crisis.
While the public remained adamant with their intermittent protests, demanding the resignation of the entire political class, the coalition government acted in a rather sordid way by administrating repression on the angst public. As the tug of war persisted between people and the government, the second card in the house of cards falls with a recent devastating and mass casualty explosion in the Beirut port, resulting in terrible loss of human lives and properties of mass economic value. Though accounts regarding what has caused the explosion is still debated; the horror which follows is very tangible for all to witness.
The Beirut explosion was the threshold-crossing event for the public whose state of affairs had been already crippled by years of dereliction of duty by the political class. With the enormity of human, food, and economic crisis, on the 8th of August 2020, the Lebanese took to the streets in what they call ‘Saturday of Revenge’. Mass protests broke out in central Beirut where people are protesting over the decades of neglect and mismanagement by the political elite who continues to play with the public sentiment in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion as a political class failed to take responsibility of the devastation it caused.
But disparate from the October 2019 protests, this mass protests by the people is distinct in two important contexts: First, the international community for its aid relief efforts is seeking reforms in the Lebanese power structure as the present power structure lost its legitimacy; second, people are beyond the point of negotiation and toleration of repression, they’ve reached their threshold of tolerance. At the moment of this writing, the protestors have effectively demonstrated their mass power by storming into the ministries of foreign affairs, economic, energy, environment, and Lebanon’s association of bank headquarters. Even a group of protestors led by former army veterans declared the occupied foreign ministry as ‘the headquarters of the revolution’.
In keeping with its tradition, the government resorted to violence and suppression. Rifts within the government are evident as Prime Minister calls for new elections with the situation turning violent. It does remain to be seen whether this would tame the unleashed anger of the public but taking a view from history, it does appear public rage will not be charmed by such political acts.
It is yet to be seen how the mass protests unfold in the coming days and weeks but one thing is certain; the great unraveling of the post-civil war constitutional and political order in Lebanon. People are refusing to be consoled by the ruling elites as they absolutely lose the public confidence and the public reached its limits with the established order. The country which was known as “The Paris of Middle East” is now burning in ashes with the lost souls and hopes due to the apathy and repression of its ruling elites.
What was long viewed from a naked eye comes at the doorstep of the political elites of the country as the order collapses before their own eyes. In stark similarities with the Greek tragedies, the unraveling of the political order was in the making for long and awaiting the last sparks which lit up the fuse on the whole established order. Before our very eyes, we are witnessing the enactment of The Lebanese Tragedy.