The protests have since escalated into calls for the government to resign, and hundreds have been wounded in clashes between security forces and demonstrators.
For many protesters, the wall in Beirut looked eerily similar to the one dividing Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank or the now-defunct barrier that partitioned Cold War-era Berlin. Beirut’s wall, spanning only a few hundred feet in length, blocked access to the prime minister’s office, located in a 19th-century building known as the Grand Serail, where cabinet meetings also are held.
“They think they can just block themselves off from us, as if we don’t exist,” said Hassan Nabolsi, 21, a theater student who earlier Tuesday had been spraying graffiti on the wall.
By Tuesday afternoon, much of the wall had been covered in murals and feisty slogans, including “Revolution!” and “Beware of the monsters behind this wall!” One of the slogans that Nabolsi tagged read, “Lebanon was occupied by Israel, and now it’s occupied by its own leaders.” That was a reference to years of Israeli military control over parts of Lebanon. It ended in 2000.
Many in this country of about 4 million people are angry at Lebanon's squabbling politicians, decrepit public services and elites, who ostentatiously flaunt wealth. Divisions over the civil war in neighboring Syria, as well as seemingly petty disputes, have prevented Lebanese politicians from selecting a new president for more than a year. Residents have long had to contend with acute electricity and water shortages, but authorities' inability to dispose trash in the capital proved to be the final straw, triggering the protests. The demonstrations were organized by a group called "You Stink."
A Lebanese minister contacted by telephone expressed regret about the wall. “It was an embarrassing decision,” said the minister, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with the news media.
For those like Nour Akiki, 24, the wall’s removal was bittersweet. Although the concrete eyesore is gone, authorities are replacing it with concertina wire.
“Whether it’s the wall or the barbed wire, the purpose of putting a barrier here is so that the government doesn’t have to listen to the demands of the people,” said Akiki, a recent university graduate who has participated in the protests.
Suzan Haidamous contributed to this report.