Consumer boycott and peaceful sit-ins

This is a view shared by Lebanese sociologist Rima Majed. New forms of protest have arisen following the experiences of 2011, she says. “If people aren’t taking to the streets, it doesn’t mean they are indifferent to the grievances,” says the sociologist.

The protest is changing. This doesn’t just apply to Lebanon. In Morocco, for example, activists have discovered the consumer boycott as a way of expressing their displeasure. In 2018, anonymous online activists called on consumers to stop buying products manufactured by leading businesspeople, for example Danone yoghurt. Sales of the product slumped in the months that followed. In Sudan, people sometimes sat peacefully for weeks on streets and squares and refused to move. These examples show how the protest movements continue to evolve.

Following initial euphoria for an Arab world on the brink of a new era, people in the West have largely lost interest. Outmoded stereotypical views of the Arab world have re-emerged. Too religious, too backward, the region and its people are different after all – just a few widely-held western opinions.

The West continues to back stability 

But when issuing judgements such as these, the West should critically scrutinise its own role in the Middle East. After all, while Europe and the U.S. may have always paid lip service to democratic values and human rights, some of their policies run directly contrary to these. Arms shipments to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates prop up repressive regimes and stoke conflicts.

In the name of democracy, the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, toppled Saddam Hussein and created a fiasco. When current military leader of Egypt Sisi violently ousted the democratically elected President Morsi in 2013, there were no sanctions, instead Egypt continues to receive billions in aid. No wonder the word “democracy” gives rise to contradictory emotions in the Middle East. It has all too often been used by western powers to gloss over their own interests. After all, in case of doubt, it is preferable to back apparent stability than genuine transformation towards greater democracy.

The latest protests in Lebanon have shown that people are continuing to take a stand for their right to a decent life. The old, authoritarian and sometimes feudal structures are no longer tenable. The contours of a new order are not yet visible. It will be a long road until the establishment of constitutional structures, says Marwan Muasher. The coronavirus pandemic and the consequences of climate change are exacerbating existing conflicts.

And yet there are also always people like Rawan Baybars, who have faith in a future for their homeland despite adverse circumstances and who don’t simply want to get up and leave. They are the beacon of hope for a better future.

Claudia Mende

© 2020

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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