The name of Omar Tiba resounds in the squares of Tripoli . During the last four days, the second city of Lebanon has been the scene of protests in the absence of state aid to compensate for the confinement.
Tiba, 30, has been the first fatality in violent clashes with the police in the early hours of Thursday. Under chants of “revolution”, the poorest city on the Mediterranean coast according to the World Bank denounces the strict closure that plunges Lebanon into poverty and famine.
Faced with an unprecedented coronavirus outbreak in the country, the authorities decreed a new confinement two weeks ago. With a 24-hour curfew , even supermarkets are closed. “We only want our minimal rights to live as human persons”, they defend from ‘ Live Love Tripoli’, an association of young activists.
In the past four nights, protests suppressed by the army and police have left more than 220 injured and one dead, according to the Lebanese Red Cross.
” We want to eat, ” they claim from the streets. In Tripoli, the absence of state aid hangs over a population that survives thanks to the informal economy . “70% of our citizens live every day , with their shops or street stalls,” explains this independent group of young people from the Lebanese city.
The Government promised an assistance of 400,000 Lebanese pounds – about € 40 at the current exchange rate – for vulnerable families, but this money will not arrive until the end of the confinement, scheduled for February 8.
When protesters threw stones at law enforcement agencies and tried to access the town hall, the riot police responded with live ammunition shots into the air to disperse them. Most of those protesting are young unemployed men .
“Tripoli has a very high unemployment rate , beset by the presence of Syrian and Palestinian refugees ,” Nazih Fino denounces . “Poverty is widespread since it has always been a city historically neglected by the Government,” he notes.
Lebanon suffers its greatest economic crisis since the civil war (1975-1990). With more than 50% of its population below the poverty line , the explosion of August 4 at the port of Beirut detonated a very deteriorated economy.
The devaluation of the pound by 80% has not prevented the increase in prices. “But people are still charging as before and every day everything is more expensive”, they add from Live Love Tripoli.
In addition, the country is experiencing its worst moment of the pandemic . During the Christmas holidays, some 80,000 expatriates returned to Lebanon to reunite with their family and friends. The Lebanese authorities decided to relax the restrictions in another attempt to save the economy.
The recent surge in coronavirus cases is largely attributed to this decision. With record numbers of daily deaths , Lebanon is plunged into despair.
Hospitals are overwhelmed for the first time in this country of six million people, with almost total occupancy in intensive care beds. The shortage of oxygen, ventilators and medicines has led citizens to seek alternatives abroad , who can afford it. Almost 290,000 cases since the start of the pandemic and 2,553 deaths from coronavirus are alarming figures for Lebanon.
Meanwhile, on the streets across the country, the Lebanese show solidarity with their compatriots in Tripoli. Amnesty International has denounced the illegal use of French-made weapons to disperse the demonstrations. The organization has demanded that Paris stop selling material such as tear gas or rubber bullets.
The epicenter of the protests of the October 17 movement , Lebanon’s second city is known as the “bride of the revolution.” With nothing to lose, the Tripolitans take to the streets to claim a dignified life amid so much abandonment .
From Live Love Tripoli, they reignite the fuse of the revolution, the ‘zaura’ in Arabic : “the people call any movement in defense of their rights ‘ zaura ‘ ”.