Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

Why Lebanon's protesters are celebrating the Red Cross

The organisation has strong support throughout Lebanon

TOPSHOT - Lebanese protesters take to the streets during demonstrations to demand better living conditions and the ouster of a cast of politicians who have monopolised power and influence for decades, on October 21, 2019 at Riad al-Solh Square in Beirut. Lebanon's teetering government met today to approve a belated economic rescue plan as thousands gathered for a fifth day of mass protests against the ruling elite. / AFP / Anwar AMRO
TOPSHOT - Lebanese protesters take to the streets during demonstrations to demand better living conditions and the ouster of a cast of politicians who have monopolised power and influence for decades, on October 21, 2019 at Riad al-Solh Square in Beirut. Lebanon's teetering government met today to approve a belated economic rescue plan as thousands gathered for a fifth day of mass protests against the ruling elite. / AFP / Anwar AMRO

As Lebanon's government endures condemnation from the public, one organisation is garnering praise all round — the Lebanese Red Cross.

The protests against government corruption and falling standards of living were sparked by government plans to tax the public for using WhatsApp. Through the ups and downs of violence and damage to good natured dancing in the streets, Lebanese Red Cross workers and their vans can be seen winding through the streets.

Like those in Hong Kong, the protests raging over the last week have been shared online across the world. A number of moments captured on video have gone viral, including crowds singing Baby Shark to a frightened toddler, dancing in the street to a DJ and cleaning up mess created by fellow demonstrators.

Many videos pay tribute to the Red Cross, showing protesters parting for an ambulance to pass through or chanting slogans of support.

"Right now we have the trust of all the parties and are moving without obstacles," said George Kettani, secretary general of the Lebanese Red Cross.

"We are accepted by all, this is the advantage. We are neutral, independent impartial … we are helping everybody."

The Red Cross, established in Lebanon in 1945 and later joining the international organisation of the Red Cross in 1947, is a cherished institution. It has over 2500 volunteers in the country and is regarded fondly by both citizens and the country's various political factions for its insistence on neutrality throughout various internal and external conflicts.

In April, when Lebanese Red Cross worker Hanna Lahoud was killed by unknown gunmen in Taez, Yemen, thousands of people turned out to pay their respects along the route and at the church where he was buried.

The organisation has also assisted in the wildfires that swept across north Lebanon this month, treating and evacuating those injured. The organisation's figures are often used by governments and news organisations as a reliable source during disasters and upheaval.

This doesn't mean the Lebanese Red Cross is immune from the negative side of online discourse. On Monday, the group categorically denied social media accusations that its ambulances were being used to ferry ministers around Beirut. In a statement on Facebook the organisation said, "not every ambulance in Lebanon belongs to the Red Cross".

Updated: October 22, 2019 04:30 PM

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