CAIRO – Streets and squares of Iraq and Lebanon have witnessed massive protests that bring to mind memories of the Arab Spring, as citizens of those countries that did not experience the 2011 uprising.
Protesters have been calling for a radical change to the system of distribution of powers and wealth and made it clear that they would not accept superficial reforms.
Sectarianism has fed wars in both countries, exploited by the ruling elite and the different political factions with their armed militias.
However, both Lebanese and Iraqis have shown a new unity spirit, holding for the first time only the national flag, not religious or political signs.
Demonstrations first began in early October in Iraq and mid-October in Lebanon.
Protests came as result of “deep frustration of large parts of society with a political class that has failed to deliver decent living conditions, has presided over a decade and a half of state failure, and is seen as hopelessly corrupt,” according to Heiko Wimmen, of Crisis Group’s Iraq/Syria/Lebanon project.
“In Iraq, the indignity is especially glaring given the huge resources of the country that nevertheless fail to make it to the people,” Wimmen added.
Iraq’s oil production doubled over the past decade, making the Arab county the fifth-biggest producer in the world, according to International Energy Agency.
“The drivers of the protests are purely social,” the expert said.
A large part of the protesters are Shiite because they represent the majority of the Iraqi community, especially in the southern part, which is rich in oil, he added.
In the south, the expert continued, the discontent with the performance of the government has increased since last year.
The health and environmental crisis the southern city of Basra went through in 2018 caused the poisoning of 120,000 people due to water contamination, while 40% of the residents still have no access to potable water this year.
In Lebanon, daily electricity and water cuts were what triggered the protests, which have been less violent compared to Iraq.
Demonstrations in both countries share the same background – rejecting the political class, who have enriched themselves at the cost of the citizens, leading to inefficient states, according to critics.
Carnegie Middle East Center said in a recent analysis that Arab people in 2011 charged at their rulers, but now they lost their trust in all the political leaders, including the opposition, as they failed to keep their promises of political and economic reforms.
The slogan of the Lebanese protests “All of them means all of them” sums it up as it calls for the departure of the ruling class.
They were the biggest rallies Lebanon has witnessed since 2005 when the so-called Cedar Revolution forced Syrian troops out of the country.
By contrast, Iraq has seen several protests over the past few years to denounce the deterioration of the situation since the ousting of Saddam Hussein’s regime at the hands of the United States.
Both countries cannot satisfy the basic needs of their citizens, are heavily indebted – with corruption widely spreading at all levels – and influenced by neighboring countries and international powers.
Although protesters in both countries have spoken against Iran and its influence, especially through the Shiite militias and political movements, the Iranian element reflects that people are fed up with the factions that remained in power thanks to foreign support.
“These protests are about bread and butter issues and not about Iran,” Arshin Adib-Moghaddam director of Centre for Iranian Studies at the London University told EFE.
In Iraq, protesters attempted to burst into the Iranian consulate in the Shiite-majority Karbala province.
The professor insisted that activists “target their governments and not any specific country.”
The participation of Shiite groups liked to Iran, such as Hezbollah, in the protests were either marginalized or rejected.
Those groups, Adib-Moghaddam said, “will have to adjust to the demands of increasingly powerful civil societies.”
The promises of reforms and government reshuffle have not eased the tension as the protests of the “Arab autumn” continued this week with protesters having learnt from the 2011 uprising and calling for radical changes.