Signs reading “We are not poor… but our money is stolen. Our dignity makes us the richest of the rich.” At a protest spring 2014. Photo by author.
“Nohad al-Mashnouk thinks he is Chuck Norris.” A protester’s sign from summer 2015 protests in Downtown Beirut photo by author.
Salim Slam bridge Beirut trash protests summer 2015 photo by author
The post read (in Arabic): “Unfortunately, today is the day we mourn justice in the court case of Manal al-Assi. We’ll not be able to announce that justice was served for a woman killed in most egregious and most heinous ways. This verdict proved how cheap women’s lives in the perception of some (males), and it turned out that the backward concept of male “honor” is more important than Her.”
photo by Kafa والدة رولا يعقوب من الاعتصام الثاني في خلال شهر للمطالبة بتمييز الحكم الظالم #منال_العاصي
The injustice that was dealt to Manal provoked me! I went on digging through my documents for the story (below) I wrote last year. However, the story was subject to negligence as the trash protests sparked and all my attention was diverted towards that spark. I never had the chance to publish it but today I let this narrative of male privilege and injustice fly.
A husband punches his wife in the face and drags her by the hair out of the window of her SUV. That was the scene in a video aired on Lebanese news channels. The incident, captured on a camera phone in the parking lot of ABC shopping center in Dbayeh, a suburb north of Beirut, momentarily shook the Lebanese public.
Outrage at the video was magnified coming as it did the day after hundreds of demonstrators had marched through the streets of the Lebanese capital to denounce domestic violence in a protest spurred by the murder of Sara al-Amin, whose (separated) husband had invited her to their daughter’s birthday party and when she arrived had shot her 17 times.
These incidents come a little over a year after a landmark bill for the protection of women and family members from domestic violence was passed by the Lebanese parliament. Although the initial passage of the law was mired in controversy (it was amended under pressure from various religious bodies in the country to include a very narrow description of domestic violence and to endorse a “marital right to intercourse”) several cases of protection have passed successfully since it was introduced.
However, the incident captured in Dbayeh is, according to Maya Amar, a spokeswoman for the Lebanese women’s rights NGO Kafa (meaning “enough” in Arabic), the first of its kind since last year’s law was passed; it directly pits the clout of the new legislation against more entrenched tenets of the Lebanese political system: patriarchy, privilege and cronyism. It “will become a model, a standard, and however it settles it will indicate to us what to hope [there is] for in the future of fighting domestic violence… this is the first challenge case.”
The man in the video is A.A.J, a lawyer and a mayor of a town east of Beirut. He has so far managed to both avoid prosecution and get a court-ordered ban prohibiting Lebanese media outlets from re-airing the video. His wife remains in hiding separated from their two children and a protection order was issued for the mother and her daughters based on a report by forensic doctors proving that they had been subject to violence and abuse. But, they remain in danger.
“The problem with A.A.J is that he is politically well-connected,” says Amar. He has “backing – it’s obvious from his entourage that he is tied to higher political connections in where he lives.”
What’s more he’s a lawyer and Article 79 of the law regulating the profession gives immunity to those in the process of defending criminal cases, an immunity that A.A.J enjoyed for three weeks following the incident. “In such [an] obvious case, where it was clear he wasn’t practising his job as a lawyer, the lawyer’s syndicate should have lifted his immunity right away,” says Amar. Even now, immunity was lifted specifically for this single incident, meaning that if A.A.J brutalizes his wife again her lawyer will have to go through the immunity loophole all over again.
In another case of male privilege that has been unsettled since last year, where a husband murdered his wife by beating her to death then called her mother to come and take her bleeding dying daughter, the perpetrator is not a lawyer but a member of a major Lebanese political party. He used his connections to delay police and forensic investigation of the crime scene by two days and was not arrested but only gave himself up at his own convenience a few days after he killed his wife. This case is being procrastinated as the husband has not been prosecuted because of a lack of will and his privilege via political cronyism; a loophole suddenly prevailed at court used by the husband accusing the deceased wife of adultery thus mitigating the charges of murder and justifying his crime in the eyes of patriarchy.
Although this is one specific test case, and other perpetrators of domestic violence have not enjoyed the immunity that A.A.J has, it has illustrated the flaws of the entire system, and the ways in which legislation can only go so far in protecting women from domestic violence in a patriarchal country. Another aspect of this patriarchal system is illustrated in the current Lebanese law of nationality that stipulates, “Shall be deemed Lebanese those who are born of Lebanese fathers” but not from Lebanese mothers. If a Lebanese woman marries a foreign national she is not entitled to pass her nationality to her spouse and their children. The inability for a Lebanese woman to extend her nationality not only denies a woman her full rights as a national, but also denies her children their basic human rights.
But, for all of the system’s flaws, Amar points out: “It’s important to note that it wasn’t the law to protect women from domestic violence that failed the woman but the privilege and immunity that this man has.” A.A.J’s wife’s lawyer, Maya Dhgidi, who has herself been at the receiving end of intimidation throughout this case, has come to see the law in a different light, however: “I used to believe in the law to protect women from domestic violence and was surprised that they are willing to pass such a law. But now I don’t believe in that anymore. I feel that they used it just for the media and to show that we are civilized but this is not true.”
She continues, while “the law to protect women from domestic violence is needed and worthy – I have defended other cases and brought protection justice and financial compensations to abused women – nevertheless, the irony is that those cases were normal people under the law; they were not super rich and they did not have political backings and connections.” If women’s rights are to be truly protected in a country where cronyism and political bullying still hold sway, more will have to be done to make the law work for all women.
Social worker Dr. Lamia Moghnieh elaborated on this case. “It is not a coincidence that three cases of violence against women were reported in less than a month, two of them happening in broad daylight. These cases are also happening at a time when the Lebanese masculinist state is expanding and ameliorating its police and surveillance institutions to better discipline and govern, many times unlawfully, the many Syrian workers-refugees and migrant workers from Africa, East and South Asia.” If headway is to be made in protecting women from domestic violence, Moghnieh believes that more joined-up thinking is needed: “I believe women’s right movements should address and work within the links between violence directed against Lebanese women, migrant workers and Syrian workers-refugees. This does not undermine the fact that there is a ‘special’ violence targeting women in Lebanon, but, on the contrary, it reveals the gendering of violence by the state on bodies produced as feminine and thus threatening, second-rate and requiring constant disciplining.”
The fact remains that Lebanese patriarchal system classifies women as second-class citizens this means abusing men will not be deterred by the current law to protect women from domestic violence. The many domestic violence incidents, not only against Lebanese women but also against domestic workers and refugees, are becoming a daily occurrence of injustice. Whether Lebanon’s domestic violence law is worth anything more than the paper it is printed on is yet to be determined.
Seven years ago I thought about suicide as a solution: an ultimate escape. This was my mind’s way of responding to the injustice that I was feeling all around me in Beirut. I had a bike accident and my right arm became permanently paralysed as a result of medical malpractice and the monstrosity of Beirut’s hospitals. But this post is not about me, this here is about Hassan Rabeh.
Hassan, a dancer, twirled his last dance last night and let his body go off the seventh floor parting this world forever. Hassan did not kill himself, Beirut killed him.
I woke up this morning in my bedroom in London sat on the side of bed, as I’ve done every morning, and tried to imagine how life was beating in Beirut at this hour. This morning the film of memory that was played to recall a Beirut moment was a scene from last summer. My Beirut memory this morning was an incident from last summer’s protests when I was running away, fleeing the streets of downtown with Mazen and his friend. At our heels was a herd of pigs covered in riot gear, batons swinging, sweeping and ploughing through the bodies of protesters. At some point we looked behind and thought that we, and the hundreds of protesters around us, had escaped the pigs as we reached the end of downtown; only to be ambushed at that moment by another herd of pigs coming from a side street on our right. This ambush disoriented us, our running got faster, more frantic, my eyes hysterically scanning to make sure I didn’t lose Mazen and his friend. In a matter of seconds, a rush of panic started taking over at the realisation that we would soon be trapped when a number 4 mini-van skidded and stopped next to us, a back door sliding-open and a driver shouting “get in, get in fast”. I don’t remember how so many of us managed to fit in through the one-meter-wide door but the next thing I remember we were all safe escaping in a getaway mini-van (also known as the cheapest form of public transportation). I looked around to check on Mazen and found him sitting next to Hassan; the three of us grinning though still panic stricken. Hassan was fidgety and kept turning in his seat to check if everyone was fine. In a comradely spirit, hyped on adrenalin, everyone in the van, locked in a strong sense of solidarity, showered the van driver with gratitude and praise for his heroic move. In turn the driver kept replying “we are all together against them pimps.” At Ras Lnabe’a Hassan, Mazen and I asked the driver to drop us as this was far enough from the protest in downtown and a good spot to grab a taxi back to Hamra at midnight.
This is how I met Hassan. I had noticed him before that night during protests or around Rappers or when state repression got tough. He used to help injured protesters or take to the frontline spitting fire “down with the military regime”. Hassan was always around some of Beirut’s rap artistes like many he was influenced by their music and part of their crew. He sang along whenever a rap circle broke out in the middle of protests or at times I found him by himself repeating those lyrics while he sat on the sidewalk smoking. That night we escaped police brutality a bond was created; maybe you could call it affinity that made us feel like allies or as if we had known each other for a long time. I didn’t know much about Hassan. I knew he fled Damascus a few years back and I could tell that Beirut was chewing through his sanity. Each time we spoke he struck me as always upset, uttering things that made no sense to me, but did to him. I felt that he was always trying to convey what he felt in words that couldn’t quite translate the immensity of his sadness and the injustice he felt: that’s what I mean when I say it made sense only to him.
The last time I saw Hassan was last October when we left the protest and went straight to Metro for a rap concert. That night was the weirdest of rap gigs I’ve been to in Beirut. The Metro theatre hall was packed to the rim with young sweaty faces and bodies still carried a whiff of teargas from the protest. In the middle of this sea of people, the shaved heads of Mukhabarat agents conspicuously popped up, I remember making a mental note that there were far too many undercovers for this gig. Facing this sea seven MCs crowded the stage and Hassan. Hassan took to the stage and danced an angry dance while tripping over cables and bashing against MCs. Hassan’s dance turned a weird rap concert into an awkward scene and he sensed this omnipresent awkwardness which seemed to invigorate his twirling body to dance harder. It’s as if he was continuing the protest we had hastily left at 10pm.
Today I woke up and Hassan’s spirit pressure was present through the memory of our escape. Then I looked at twitter and read the news of his death. Like Hassan there are thousands of Syrians and Palestinians who are brutalized and dehumanized daily by the Lebanese police state. Like Hassan we all want to topple this cruel regime, but alas… We?
I don’t know how Hassan felt last night when he let himself go off the seventh floor. Maybe he felt the eternal relief of death but I’d like to think that he felt strong and victorious for ending things on his terms. I know that Hassan couldn’t bear the injustice he was dealt; he couldn’t stand living the humiliation of Beirut. Like Hassan, many of us want to escape the ruthlessness of our times and are confronted by our inability to break the system of injustice murdering a thousand Hassan each day. Hassan’s words that he wrote few days before he departed sums up his (and our) bruised soul.
“I was taken in for a Hashish case. I spent time in prison with the best people then I went out, I bribed my interrogator he was good and brave trying to help. I was reckless as soon as I was out I went on drinking smoking abusing. My mind and soul played me started playing my people my friends and family then I stopped talking to them and stopped talking to anyone. I started calling myself Al-Hassan and Mohamad and Jesus and all creeds then I started lying. And I am only a servant of my Lord my name is Hassan and peace may be upon you forgive me my friends my people my beloved. And down with all regimes starting by the killer fascist and failed Syrian regime and it’s devil Bashar and his father. And down with the capitalist settler Israeli regime and Daesh the other face of the coin of the same system and to Nohad al-Mashnouk in the same circle. Down with the wanton promiscuous global intelligence. I’m only a servant of my Lord I die till I live. I’m not part of any sect or any party that claims authority among its entourage. a servant to my lord and the truth is from him and the love from him. Down with Israeli and down with its spies, for the truth is from the one god and to Palestine is the return.”
In response to the failure of the state to manage and dispose of accumulated trash, a series of protests erupted in Lebanon in August 2015 demanding the toppling of the Lebanese corrupt regime and the basic rights for water, electricity and a clean healthy environment. This article provides an overview of the strategies used by the state to dismantle the protest movements, a class reading of the social movements three months into the protests, and an analysis of the strengths and achievements of the demonstrations.
The strategies of the state, its police and paramilitary branches in targeting activists and protest movements
The regime adopted multiple strategies to contain and dismantle the protests and shift public understanding of the protesters. These tools, visible in contingent interactions during the protests, in arrests conducted and in political statements, were all undeniably informed by the massive wave of NGO-ization of Lebanese security state institutions and apparatuses after the July war in 2006, and the rehabilitation, trainings, coordination and conferences on security and anti-terrorism issues organized for various Lebanese security sectors by foreign states. Various professionalized and ‘under the counter’ coercive and containment techniques have been adopted in these protests in Lebanon.
The classic trilogy: ‘Ghareeb, Ta’ati, Irhab’ (Foreigners, drugs & terrorism)
In his effort to discredit the legitimacy of the protests, Lebanese interior minister Nouhad El Machnouk relied on a classic trilogy that represented the protesters as drug addicts and non- Lebanese who are manipulating the protests for ulterior motives, like terrorism and implementing a foreign agenda. The irony of these accusations did not go unnoticed in a state that is literally and materially functional primarily because of foreign money and agendas. The interior ministry and its apparatus addressed the presence of moundasseen, or infiltrators, among the protesters, claiming that police have arrested Syrians and Sudanese nationals, as well as ‘drug addicts’ in the protests, while media sources hinted at the presence of ISIS enthusiasts planning terrorist attacks. These familiar categories are how the Lebanese regime understood and treated disobedience in times of social and political anxieties and violence.
The ideology of Al-Ghareeb, or the foreigner non-Lebanese, has been evoked to instigate fear, mistrust and recreate an insider/outsider binary. Al Ghareeb has always been highly racialized in the Lebanese discourse. Al Machnouk’s insistence on the Syrian and the Sudanese as the main infiltrators in the protests should not go unnoticed. Both racialized bodies are refugees and asylum seekers in Lebanon, and have been part of the Lebanese labor force. In recent years, with the influx of Syrian refugees into the country, the Lebanese state have used ‘the Syrians’ as a scapegoat category for almost every occurring problem, from lack of water, electricity, to the dearth of jobs. Sudanese asylum seekers have been engaging in a strike outside of UNHCR offices which they accuse of racism and discriminatory treatment, under severe conditions and bullying from both UNHCR and the police. Both black bodies — and we use black here inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s deconstruction of blackness in “Between the World and Me” (2015) as a category foremost implicated in the national dream of what it means to be Lebanese and the racialized ideology of the state vis-à-vis its residents– are highly managed and abused by the police and army. Both are not allowed to protest for their rights and are made to be invisible except when evoked as infiltrators. The use of the Syrian and Sudanese bodies works to evoke foreignness and terror, while justifying the excess of force and governance by the police.
Violence and the protests: military courts in a democratic state
Another strategy used by the interior ministry consists of portraying the protests as unsafe and violent, and protesters as irresponsible rioters, to extend its own “legitimate” use of violence in the protests. This was intensified by the coordination with paramilitary forces in the form of armed civilians kidnapping protesters and beating them up. In Akkar for example, armed civilians opened fire to dismantle a protest against the opening of garbage dumps, wounding five people.
More institutionalized and professionalized practices of detainment, such as the opening of temporary detention centers, were adopted, while less familiar maneuvering strategies were employed by riot police during protests, exhausting the protesters and depleting their spirit. However, police violence and detainment techniques seem to suddenly break away into “street violence” in other protests, with videos showing riot police throwing stones at protesters, following them in the street with tanks, and shooting disproportionate amounts of teargas directly at them, instead of into the air. One protester, Mohamad Kassir, suffered from full body paralysis when shot with a teargas canister from a point blank range on the night of the August 23rdprotest. Many other protesters have also been wounded. So far preliminary data show that approximately 250 people have been, arrested, 54 of them were referred to military court for trials. Among these were ten underage protesters. Al Machnouk have justified the excess of violence by claiming that the protesters have a desire to be beaten and arrested.
What is disquieting is the random arrests of protesters and activists convicted and tried in military, rather than civil, courts under the pretext of disturbing “civil peace,” attacking military hardware, and the barbed wire placed to prevent protesters from reaching the parliament and the government palace.
Three months of civil protests: a class reading of civil movements’ strategies, anxieties and of the abrupt fall of the momentum
The protests that engulfed Beirut were met with repressive measures by state security. which sparked and galvanized nationwide popular outrage. However, that revolutionary spark was gradually tamed by the sectarian-capitalist establishment and abandoned by the organizers of the street movement that became known as the Harak (mobility). In order to understand the current stalemate it’s noteworthy to point out how the so-called Harak is governed by middle-class anxieties and privileges that when threatened took on de-escalation tactics and deflated what could have turned into a historical event in the history of modern Lebanon.
Following the brutal attacks by state security against protesters there was a juncture when protests climaxed and became a force capable of creating a dent in the Lebanese political system. At that juncture the Lebanese political sectarian mafia felt intimidated by protesters who in their peaceful persistence turned into a raging fireball that awakened a portion of the dormant Lebanese consciousness. The peaceful method of the protests was a unique phenomenon in a Lebanon governed by daily organized violence. Thus, the dysfunctional Lebanese state that was being condemned on the street turned into a highly functional and efficient repressive machine orchestrated by minister of interior Nohad al-Mashnouk, funded trained and equipped by foreign aid programs.
By curbing the sentiment on the street from an uprising into a Harak, NGO-oriented activists proved that they were not fit to handle the fireball they had created; their organizational methods were inconsistent with the revolutionary spirit that united people in one protest. As pressure mounted on the streets people demanded a bigger scope of change; to topple the whole sectarian system. But protest organizers were reluctant to move towards such change and settled for merely protest organizing. Furthermore, the most prominent movements: We want Accountability, You-stink and other movements downsized their scope of action and gradually fell back from crude street defiance into flash mob activities and “event” organizers. While the street was fidgety and anxious for more action its energy was drained by the extensive meetings held behind closed doors by the You-stink and We want Accountability movements vying for the forefront of public representation. Nevertheless, the street at this point was still ahead of organizers’ hesitance; to the organizers the street increasingly became too big to handle and seemed like it might really get things out of their hands and shake the sectarian system from its foundations. As a result of not matching the sentiments on the street, the backpedalling started, which created time and space for politicians and state authority to organize their ranks and respond to the rebellion on the streets with calculated coercive and containment tactics. This is when campaigners began their withdrawal from an ongoing street battle to topple the regime, to a battle for recycling trash and finding solutions for the corrupted state whose own corruption led to the trash crisis.
On the 23rd of August was the protest that exposed the classist colours of the You-Stink organizers who betrayed the street calling on state security to clean the protest of agent provocateurs while thousands of protesters stood their ground defying state repression. Approximately two million refugees and migrant workers in Lebanon face the worst forms of daily violence; however the emphasis on the “Gharib” by minister of interior and rumors spread by organizers about “infiltrators” eliminated the participation or even the suggestion of including refugees and migrant workers in protests. The classist aspect amongst protest organizers especially among the You-Stink movement has a) criminalised and alienated protesters who have come from low income areas with vengeance and stood up to police brutality during protests and b) supplied Lebanese politicians a pretext to delegitimize the protest for being “infiltrated by agent provocateurs,” simultaneously blocking the way for participation of migrant workers and refugees and serving further bogiemanization of the latter.
While in privately planned minimalist-protests prominent You-Stink activists acted violently in front of the cameras as they confronted state security; these were celebrated as heroic acts, but when this same violence was taken by ordinary and low income angry protesters they were called “infiltrators” and “undisciplined elements” by You-Stink activists. Then it became clear that you-stink activists wanted any direct action to go through their filters and get their approval: a move to monopolize the public image and representation of the protests, not an unusual occurrence in sectarian Lebanese politics.
When violence was perpetrated by protesters in general as a defense mechanism against repressive state security measures, then the reaction by the whole array of the sectarian polity and their media trumpets was that of shock and bafflement, as if Lebanon was an island of tranquility. The fact that the state has been devolving in a dysfunctional mode for decades is in itself a form of daily violence that led to angry resentments on the streets this last summer. Violence against refugees, domestic migrant workers, LGBT individuals and women is an ongoing violence that doesn’t raise an iota of the outrage voiced against “violent protesters.”
The major achievement of the protests is that it has created cracks in the sectarian bubbles and some people have started leaking out to meet their counterparts andrealize that everything is in fact common, that they are all victims of the same repressive social order. The patriarchal sectarian blinders fell in the street. That’s why it’s imperative for the street movement to abandon the Harak mentality and return to the uprising mode. Only an uprising could impose a real threat to the capitalist ruling elite and the sectarian lords, while simultaneously creating confidence in the street to empower those undecided citizens still stuck inside their sectarian bubbles, who need to defect and leak out to the street. That’s why it’s erroneous to wait for a corrupt establishment to come up with solutions or even feel morally pressured by the Harak’s tactics and reform. The make-them-wait-promise-to-keep-them-waiting approach is what the Lebanese have had in the last 25 years; Mafioso politicians will only feel intimidated if their own thievery was directly threatened and when their own timid constituencies find an alternative to their hegemonic sectarian social order.
And so the street movement has sunk into a frustrated feeling of defeat as a result of the Harak’s inaction and de-escalation tactics. The biggest mistake was committed while the climax on the street was at its peak; the organizers who led the protests failed to embrace and organize those outraged on the streets who had just abandoned their sectarian social bubbles. Those dissident individuals who dared to defect from the social hegemony of family authority and broke away from the sectarian political identity that governs their social relations needed a safe Haven.
The Harak’s weakest point is the fact that on an organizational level its ranks are dominated by middle-class activists steeped in an NGO mentality, and as a result the revolutionary mood on the street was taken hostage by their middle-class anxieties. Seeing that the street swelled with angry protesters making demands beyond the scope of action that was planned by the organizers of You-Stink, the Harak then de-escalated its measures of direct action. Worse, the campaigners switched their modus operandi into exclusive and elitist-looking attempts, seeking media stunts rather than taking the uprising to the next level, thereby nipping in the bud the revolutionary character of the protests. The toxic elitist sentiment lies within decision-making circles that kept on meeting behind closed doors away from the street and missed the chance of establishing an open sit-in at Riad al-Solh that could function as a shelter, a place of belonging, a visible ongoing body of the protest and a safe haven reclaiming public space. Secular activists who have had experience with and a history of street protests and organization have failed to open the doors of the streets or/and secure them – to embrace first-time protesters who flowed onto the streets since August 22. Many young individuals who had just abandoned their traditional habitats at the risk of severing their familial/social-sectarian ties joined their peers in the streets denouncing the defeatism of their parents’ generation. They needed an alternative to embrace them, but that alternative did not match their needs.
It’s precisely this type of middle-class anxieties that reproduce the system within the protest movement itself. The two major movements that were born out of public resentments against trash and corruption,You-Stink and We want Accountability, became the two most dominant movements in the Harak. It increasingly seems that the way in which these two movements operate and politically differentiate themselves from the other have placed them at the risk of slipping into a polarization that resembles the political mode of March 8 and March 14 political blocs, the political alliances that were formed following the withdrawal of Syrian security from Lebanon in 2005.
At present, autumn’s arrival has cooled down the atmosphere in Beirut. The sentiment in the street seems to be back to square one, but not without its symbolic achievements. The backtracking from movements’ organizers into tactical gambling to solve the trash crisis deflated the revolutionary enthusiasm that created a momentary existential threat to the Lebanese political order. Middle-class activists who are at the risk of missing a historical chance to change the lethal Lebanese political equation ought to realize that it’s only a matter of time until their middle-class privileges that they cling to are eventually going to vanish by the political establishment they hesitated to topple.
The shaking of the patriarchal discourse and political cynicism: reconfiguring hope & political action
Perhaps the undeniable strength of the protests so far rests in their ability to put an end to the cynicism and helplessness reigning over conversations and actions for change in Lebanon, thereby producing political hope in the ability to dismantle the Lebanese corrupt structure. The personal-emotive transformations experienced by activists and non-activists alike, and the possibility of imagining something new, have created a stimulating platform for political and social debates. One slogan held in the protests “A revolution on the life we live with (the help of) drugs and pills,” portrays this personal revolution over slow and structural death in a stagnant system.
A revolution over the life we live with drugs and pills (Source: Al Manshour)
The protests have also caused a crack in the discourse and esthetics of power itself. This is visible in the state’s rhetoric and arguments against corruption that are no more convincing. Ministers and state leaders are ridiculed and mocked in the protests. Intellectuals are challenged publically and accused of being paternalistic.
In a counter move, the regime attempted once again to attack the authenticity of the protests on the basis of morals, manners and the esthetics of protesting. They filed lawsuits against name defamation, arrested activists under the pretext of disrespecting the flag and nation. Not everything of course has been challenged. The sacredness of certain political leaders and parties, notably Hezbollah, remained mostly unchallenged and undebatable while protesters try to advance the idea of “All means All,” that everyone is corrupt and needs to be held accountable.
However, social movements have yet to offer new forms of political action and expression. Many of the protests have been incorporated into sometimes outdated and a politically insignificant way of doing politics & protesting. Protests have been turned into a media spectacle, constricted by recycled speeches and old political music that has lost the ability to express the present. A rise in nationalism is also noticeable, where many times there is an intentional forgetting of Palestinians, Syrians and foreign migrant workers and maids who also have crucial demands and rights in the country they reside in and are as affected by the same system if not more severely.
The feminist bloc, a feminist platform for groups and activists that emerged as a result of the protest to provide feminist solidarity and secure a safe space in the protests for women and gender-minority groups to express their opinions and demands, has been marching in the protests under the slogan of “the patriarchal regime kills.” This is a good example of these practices of challenging and revealing what lies inside the Lebanese discourse of power. The bloc’s chant “I want to dance, I want to sing and I want to topple the system” can be read as a double commentary on the freedom of women to occupy the streets, but also as challenging hegemonic male-centered ways of doing politics and protesting, signaling the need to challenge and take back the streets and protests re-appropriated by “the Lebanese male activist” and recycled activist forms of political expressions.
Aeham Ahmed, a young pianist, used to roam the desolate streets of Yarmouk refugee camp — described by the United Nations Secretary-General as the “deepest circle of hell” in Syria earlier this year.
Aeham colored the bleak camp with his melodies. But at the start of September the 28-year-old Palestinian fled the country along with thousands of others, seeking refuge in Europe.
A husband and father of two little boys, Aeham is known as the singing bird of Yarmouk. The camp was home to the largest community of Palestinians in Syria before tens of thousands left the camp after it was bombed by government forces and infiltrated by rebel fighters in December 2012.
The musician has now reached Europe and is planning to continue playing the piano. In the streets and on the stages of his new refuge, he says, he’ll be “singing for Palestine, for Yarmouk and for injured Syria.”
I first made contact with Aeham over Faceook one year ago. Back then, he refused to leave Yarmouk, despite months of siege without enough food, and no electricity or water. He was focused on composing music and writing lyrics urging Palestinian refugees to return to the camp.
One song, “O refugees come back,” goes: “O displaced come back, the travelling has been far too long.”
His songs were a salve to those who were unable to flee. His story was also a beacon of hope outside of Yarmouk, as videos of him performing in the camp’s bombed-out streets were shared widely on the Internet.
Since then the violence in Syria has worsened, and Aeham’s world has deteriorated.
His heart was broken earlier this year as he watched fighters from the Islamic State, who invaded and seized areas of the camp in April, set fire to his beloved piano. They told him that music was forbidden.
This only inflamed the young pianist who persevered and kept the music going.
He resumed playing on a basic plastic keyboard, shouting out his lyrics. Each verse was spat out like a fireball, retaliating against the brutality all around him. Over and over again, he sang songs that were specially composed for Yarmouk, songs that were created to keep some semblance of hope alive.
Aeham and his family ultimately fled to Damascus. After three months of contemplating the long walk to Europe, Aeham entrusted his wife and two boys to extended family in nearby Yalda, south of Damascus, so that they could follow later when he had established himself in Europe.
At the start of September, Aeham’s journey began.
Aeham had to pay a large sum of money to reach Homs, then Hama, then Aleppo in Syria’s north. From there he headed towards Turkey.
“Here is Yarmouk”
On 11 September Aeham posted on Facebook photos of himself surrounded by pine trees. The caption read: “On the smuggling road, O mother, my ties were severed. On the Syrian-Turkish border, here is Yarmouk.”
A week later I wrote to Aeham. To my surprise he replied instantly. Aeham’s voice message was filled with exhaustion and uncertainty: “I’m well, brother, I just need to catch my breath; the road is long,” he said. “I’m in Greece right now and getting ready to leave.”
He was hoping to catch an eight-hour bus ride to Serbia.
Fans and friends in Europe have tried to help Aeham.
Laila Ben Allal is a photojournalist who visited Yarmouk last May but didn’t get the chance to meet Aeham.
Laila is one of numerous sympathizers who had responded to his plight, moved by images of Aeham pushing his piano on his uncle’s vegetable cart in Yarmouk.
On 23 September, Aeham’s voice was heard again. Like his old piano, he was vibrating with hope.
“Aeham has reached Munich,” Laila told me.
Laila met Aeham on the Austrian border as he crossed on foot into Germany. Full of excitement in the back seat of the car, the piano player sang his first song in Europe. He celebrated by saluting Yarmouk camp and its displaced residents.
He sang: “From Munich, Yarmouk loves you O brother
To the one living in New York, Yarmouk loves you O brother
And to those who are still steadfast in Yarmouk may God be with you O brothers.”
Muslims across the world recently observed Eid al-Adha. It was the first time that Aeham spent the holiday away from his family.
On such occasions it is the custom for elders to give children a gift of money to spend in celebration.
Aeham’s gift this year was that of hope: for a safe and stable life when he reunites with his wife and children.
Moe Ali Nayel is a freelance journalist based in Beirut. Follow him on Twitter: @MoeAliN.
في الثامن من شهر آب/ أغسطس الماضي، أُقيمت حفلة شد عصب على خشبة مسرح مترو المدينة. قصدتُ الحفلة تلك الليلة مدفوعاً بفضول حول اختيار عنوان الحفل، ومتسائلاً عن الفكرة التي جمعت الرابرجية السبعة: من لبنانالراس (طرابلس)، وناصر الدين الطفار (بعلبك). من سوريا السيّد درويش (حمص)، ووتر من (دمشق)، والأصلي (دير الزور). ومن مخيم اليرموك فتحي رحمة الملقّب بـ ال محراك، ورائد غنيم ، الأصغر سناً بينهم. في حديثي معهم عبّر الرابرجية عن حاجة لشدّ عصب الروح الجماعيّة، في وقت تخيّم فيه الخيبة والشعور باليأس على الشباب العربي. انتقلت لطرح الأسئلة على جمهور الحفلة الذي تجمّع خارج صالة مسرح المترو. أجابت فتاة في مطلع العشرينيّات: “أنا نصف سوريّة ونصف يمنيّة، وكان مفهوم الهويّة والانتماء مُعضلة بالنسبة لي، لمْ أستطعْ تقديم إجابة واضحة لأحد. لكن، حين دخل الراب العربي إلى عالمي، تكلّم عن ذات الأفكار التي كانت تدور في رأسي، وعجزت عن صياغتها. الراب العربي منحني مفهوماً واضحاً لهويتي”. ثمّ أضاف شاب، كان في جوارنا، يشف البيرة ويسترِق السمع إلى ما قالته الفتاة “بسمع راب لأنّه كلمتين نضاف أحسن من ميّة جريدة وسخة”.
بدأ الحفل ولساعتين متواصلتين، كانت الصالة ممتلئة، تهتزّ وتتموّج مع كلّ أغنية. في نهاية الحفل وصل الجمهور إلى قمّة اندماجه، لتتحوّل الأمسية إلى مظاهرة صغيرة. وفعلاً، في اليوم التالي انطلقت مظاهرة في بيروت تنادي بفساد الطبقة الحاكمة، وفشلها بالتعامل مع أزمة القمامة التي اجتاحت شوارع لبنان. لا شك أن جمهور حفل “شد عصب” أكملَ مظاهرته الصغيرة مع حشد اليوم التالي.
تتابعت الأحداث في بيروت، واشتدت أزمة النفايات؛ لتكون سبباً في ارتفاع وتيرة التظاهر والاحتجاج، حتّى وصلت إلى المطالبة بإسقاط النظام السياسي_المالي_الطائفي. وحينما توسعت شرارة الامتداد الثوري في الثاني والعشرين من شهر آب/ أغسطس، قامتْ السلطات بإفلات قوى مكافحة الشغب، المدربة على يد الأمريكيّين – كبرنامج ضمن برامج المساعدات التي تمنحها الولايات المتحدة للبنان – لقمع التّظاهرة في وسط البلد1 بوحشيّة. كانت النتيجة أن توافدت أعداد كبيرة من المتظاهرين في اليوم التالي، متحديّة السلطة، رافعة شعارات الاستنكار، لقمع المتظاهرين.
في ذلك اليوم، كان الراب حاضراً بقوة. أمّا ذلك الجدار الإسمنتيّ، الذي أقامته قوات الأمن، للفصل بين المتظاهرين ومقر الحكومة، فلم يكن سوى جداريّة فنيّة للمتظاهرين، حيث كُتبت أيضاً عليه عبارة “حي على خير الشغب” المقتبسة من أغنية الدرويش وناصر الدين الطفار وهلوسايكليبو.
وعلى حائط في وسط البلد ذو الطابع البورجوازي، تم رش غرافيتي “الأرزة بلها وشراب ميتها دم” من أغنية الراس وناصر الدين الطفار لبنان ٢.
أما المشهد الذي عبّر عن ثِقل وأهميّة تأثير الراب العربي على وعي الشباب، وتقاطعه بشكل جذري مع صوت الشارع، كان برأيي مجموعة مؤلفة من أربعة شبان مراهقين، بعد احتداد وتيرة المواجهة بين المتظاهرين العزل وقوى مكافحة الشغب. إذ التفتوا، وسط انهمار قنابل الغاز المسيل للدموع، نحو مجموعة من شرطة حماية مجلس النواب، وصرخوا بكلمات ناصر الدين الطفار: “لما بدك تحكي بالناس الجوعانة جوع مرّة، قاتل إسرائيل لنصدق بدك رجوع، في حراميّة بتسترزق من الثورة وحراميّة عالمعس تنطر دورها”.
يمكن لهذا المشهد أن يلخّص مشهد الراب العربي، كطريقة تدفع الشباب العربي إلى الثورة ضد الأنماط المتوارثة من جيل أهالينا. خصوصاً إذا وضعناه بالتّباين مع الأغاني الثوريّة من حقبة الثمانينيّات، والتي لم يكن مرحّباً بها في تظاهرات بيروت الأخيرة. طريقة تعبير هؤلاء الشبان عن أنفسهم في وجه السلطة أكّد لي، وبعيداً عن انحيازي للراب، أنّه ثمّة طريقة لتبديل المستهلك، خاصة من خلال استعادة أهميّة اللغة العربيّة عبر استنباط التقليد الشعريّ ووضعه بتصرف الجميع.