بيروت: فراغ ويأس

 ترجمه‫/‬ته الى العربية‫:‬ وليد ضو  

 

 

في القسم الأول من شهر أيار/مايو غرقت بيروت برائحة مقرفة ناجمة عن تخمر أكوام النفايات التي تجمعت منذ الصيف الماضي. وسط النفايات، الحرارة والفوضى جهزت بيروت نفسها للانتخابات البلدية. بعد ظهر أحد الأيام كنت أتجول في مدينتي بسيارة أجرة إلى جانب سائقها، الذي استمر، طوال الطريق، بالتفاخر، خلال حديثه معي، عن مغامراته الجنسية. ببطء، وصلنا أمام مخفر الجميزة، في هذه اللحظة أصبحت جولتي مع سائق سيارة الأجرة مسلية. كانت سيارة رباعية الدفع بيضاء اللون تابعة للقوى الأمنية يحاول سائقها ركنها أمام المخفر. اجتاج المشهد اهتياج وصراخ الفاليه باركينغ الذي ظهر فجأة وركض باتجاه السيارة الأمنية وضرب بيده على غطاء محركها المغبر وهو يصرخ: “وقف! وقف! شو مفكر حالك عم تعمل؟ ما فيك توقف هون لأنو اليوم نهار الجمعة، هيدا المحل محجوز”. مرت ثوان وجيزة، أعاد الشرطي، المصعوق المتجمد خلف مقوده، سيارته إلى وسط الطريق. ازدحم السير خلفنا، وأطلق سائقو السيارات زماميرها احتجاجا. عند مدخل المخفر كان هناك شرطي آخر فاقترب بخجل من زميله سائق السيارة الأمنية وطلب منه إعادة ركنها في نفس المكان. وما إن شعر الفاليه باركينغ بأنه جرى تجاهله دخن مجة من سيجارته واستشاط غضبا مطلقا سلسلة من الشتائم تجاه رجلَي الأمن أنهاها بالتالي: “يللا يا عرص، روح من هون، روح وقف بغير محل، يللا من هون بسرعة”. بعد أن أطلق تحذيره وتهديده لسائق السيارة، أعادها الأخير إلى الطريق وذهب بعيدا. أما الشرطي الثاني فقد غادر الرصيف متجنبا النظر إلى الفاليه باركينغ متقهقرا هو وبندقيته التي كان يضعها خلف ظهره وتتدلى بين قدميه كذنب كلب ودخل إلى المخفر. كما لو كنا نشاهد تلفزيون الواقع، حيث تابعتُ مع سائق سيارة الأجرة مشهدا يظهر ديناميات القوة في شوارع بيروت. وتحت وقع الصدمة التي صعقتنا والمفاجأة والتسلية، نظرنا إلى بعضنا البعض وقلنا في نفس الوقت: “شفت شو صار هلأ؟” تناول سائق سيارة الأجرة سيجارة من علبته وقال كما لو كان يحدث نفسه: “ليك المنيك! هالولد يللي بيصف سيارات الناس عندو سلطة أكتر من الشرطة يللي بتراقبنا”. فشفط مجة كبيرة من سيجارته مطلقا الكثير من الدخان وتعليقه الأخير: “الله يلعن هالبلد”.

وقد علمتُ لاحقا أن منطقة الجميزة خاضعة لنفوذ حزب الكتائب وأن شركة الفاليه الباركينغ هي واحدة من مكونات هذا النفوذ. كما تجدر الإشارة إلى أن مخفر الجميزة سيء السمعة لقمعه المتظاهرين السلميين واللاجئين والعمال الأجانب.

خلال شهر أيار/مايو، احتلت صور وجوه المرشحين المفعمة بالأمل إلى الانتخابات البلدية جدران بيروت. كانت المنافسة بين الحملات خلال الانتخابات البلدية في بيروت محمومة، وكانت فرصة لأصحاب المشاريع والأفراد الطموحين القادرين على الحلم والمشاركة في المهزلة الديمقراطية. ومثل كل الانتخابات السابقة في لبنان، كانت الانتخابات هذه السنة فرصة لكسب المال، خاصة لشركات الإعلان ومحلات الطباعة وفرصة للكثيرين لبيع أصواتهم. بشكل أساسي، الانتخابات البلدية كشفت محدودية نفوذ المجتمع المدني وجردت بعض السياسيين من مؤيديهم: لقد خلقت فراغا. وبالتالي، كانت أهم نتيجة للانتخابات البلدية في بيروت هو انكشاف الفراغ السياسي. فقد شارك في الانتخابات 20 بالمئة من الناخبين، مقابل امتناع صارخ لـ 80 بالمئة من الأغلبية المكتئبة.

توقعات مختلفة، فقاعات (غير) مختلفة

خلال الانتخابات تباينت توقعات الفقاعات الاجتماعية لبيروت يوم الأحد 8 أيار/مايو. من داخل دوائر المجتمع المدني يمكن أن يتلاقى المرء في الحانات والمقاهي مع أنشط الناشطين. صبايا وشباب يرتدون قمصانا بيضاء ينتشرون في كل مكان بهيئة شبابية فرحة تغذيها نشوة العمل الجماعي من أجل التعبئة السياسية. متطوعون من أعمار مختلفة يعبئون من دون كلل أصدقائهم والعائلات لأن “كل صوت مهم” و”يجب الفوز. نريد التغيير”. شباب هبسترز عصريون من الطبقة العليا لبنانيون يتوقون للتغيير “لأننا لم نعد نحتمل” و”نريد شوارعا نظيفة، وزحمة سير أقل ونريد حلا مستداما لأزمة النفايات”. التقيت ببعض هؤلاء الشبان والصبايا في سوق الأكلسوق للأطعمة المرتفعة الثمن في وسط بيروت- من ناشطي حملة بيروت مدينتي. تبادلنا أطراف الحديث حول الانتخابات المقبلة وسط أصوات صاخبة لموسيقى أوروبية هابطة تنبعث من الخلفية. حماسهم لحملة بيورت مدينتي عبروا عنه بلكنة أميركية جعلت المرء يشعر أن حملة بيروت مدينتي متشابهة مع حملة بيرني ساندرز. 

في المقابل، خارج الدائرة الآمنة للمجتمع المدني ساد جو من اللامبالاة السياسية على كثير من شوارع بيروت. عدم الاهتمام بالسياسة وبالانتخابات المقبلة كانا حاضرين خاصة في المناطق التي كانت تعتبر مؤيدة لتيار المستقبل. في يوم الانتخابات “الخزان السني الانتخابي” المؤيد للحريري في منطقة الطريق الجديدة لم يُغرق مراكز الاقتراع كما كان سعد الحريري يتمنى. على العكس من ذلك، عمت شوارع منطقة الطريق الجديدة حالة من اللامبالاة وعدم اكتراث بسياسات تيار المستقبل. كانت خيبة الأمل من الحريري أكبر من أي وقت آخر، العديد من مؤيديه تمنوا أن يشهدوا خسارته في 8 أيار/مايو. منذ سنتين كان التعبير عن هذا الشعور يحصل وراء الأبواب المغلقة، أما اليوم فبتنا نسمعه في الشوارع، “نريد أن يخسر [الحريري] في الانتخابات، كدرس للوضع المقرف الذي وصلنا إليه” قال رجل أربعيني، يرتدي بزة رسمية، حيث كان يحث جيرانه في شارع عفيف الطيبي لمقاطعة الحريري. بمثل هذا الازدراء المعبر عنه علنا دون أن يولد أي رد فعل سلبي تجاهه وسط منطقة الطريق الجديدة يعني أن الحريرية قد تجاوزت تاريخ صلاحيتها كممثلة سياسية للسنة في لبنان.

في تلك الأيام هيمنت على شوارع منطقة الطريق الجديدة حالة من الاستلاب الاجتماعي والبارانويا. تلك الشوارع تعيش اليوم تداعيات وآثار جانبية للعقد الأخير للرهانات السياسية الطائفية السامة للحريري. زوايا الشوارع التي اعتاد الشباب أن يتسكعوا فيها، بعضهم من العمال والعديد منهم عاطلين عن العمل، بات الرجال أنفسهم يتجنبونها. أولئك الذين اعتادوا على قضاء وقتهم في زوايا الشوارع يأكلون بذر دوار الشمس أو عندما حول تيار المستقبل هذه الزوايا لمراقبة الأحياء الشعبية- خلال وقبل وبعد اشتباكات أيار/مايو عام 2008- باتوا اليوم بعيدين عن الأنظار. بعض الرجال الذين كانوا يتوافدون إلى هذه الزوايا “ذهبوا إلى سوريا ولم نعد نسمع عنهم شيئا مذاك” وآخرون “ذهبوا إلى سوريا واستشهدوا هناك” و”المحظوظون ركبوا المراكب وباتوا اليوم في السويد أو ألمانيا”. أما من بقي في الشوارع فقد باتوا محبطين ومفتتين، تملأهم مشاعر مليئة بالكراهية والريبة من بعضهم البعض. هؤلاء الرجال الذين اعتادوا تنشق الشوفينية السنية التي كان يبثها زعماء تيار المستقبل لا يتقبلون اليوم أن يطعن بظهورهم نفس الزعماء. وقد وقعوا اليوم في لعبة كريهة: الوشاية ببعضهم البعض لفرع المعلومات.

فرع المعلومات أنشأه، رئيس الحكومة الأسبق، رفيق الحريري، بات اليوم تحت نفوذ وزير الداخلية المنتمي لتيار المستقبل، نهاد المشنوق. فرع المعلومات يمثل نموذجا للتفكك الطائفي لكل مكون من مكونات الأجهزة الأمنية في الدولة اللبنانية. وعادة ما ينظر إليه العديد من المواطنين اللبنانيين المنتمين إلى المذهب السني بأنه “فرعهم الأمني” ولكن قبضة هذا الفرع الشديدة استعملت ضد الجميع. منذ النهاية المأساوية لاحتجاجات صيف عام 2015 تحول المجتمع المدني من العمل المباشر للحشد للانتخابات البلدية فيما بينهم، وفي الوقت عينه عمل فرع المعلومات على استراتيجية الاحتواء. الفرع الأمني يعمل بين أفقر شباب بيروت: استمالة الوشاة، خلق ثقافة من البارانويا وانعدام الثقة؛ اعتماد سياسة فرق تسد في الأحياء الشعبية الفقيرة. وفي حين تحولت بيروت إلى مدينة أمنية تسلل فرع المعلومات في بعض قطاعات المدينة لفرض هيمنة على الشوارع والسيطرة على عدة شبكات. بالإضافة إلى ذلك، ممارسات فرع المعلومات القمعية وجدت حليفا لها تمثل بعصابات حركة أمل حيث هاجما معا المتظاهرين السلميين في الصيف الماضي.

لقد تحدثتُ إلى شابين التقيت بهما للمرة الأولى عام 2008. في ذلك الوقت كانا من بين المجموعات الذكورية المفتولة العضلات الطائفية التي اعتادت على مراقبة زوايا الشوارع في وقت كان مناصرو تيار المستقبل يلعبون الورق ويدخنون في الخارج “منتظرين هجوم الشيعة”. التقيتُ بربيع وأحمد في شارع جانبي بمنطقة قصقص. بعد أن تبادلنا المجاملات سألتُهما عن الأوضاع في المنطقة. “ماذا؟ ألم تسمع؟ أين كنت؟ ألم تعرف ما فعل بنا المشنوق؟” رد أحمد وربيع متأسفين عندما سألت عن بقية المجموعة. “لم يعد أحد يثق بأي شخص بعد الآن، باتوا يشون ببعضهم البعض للمعلومات”. وفي وقت كنت أتجول مع أحمد وربيع أخذتُ أراقب واقع يكشف ديناميات العلاقات الاجتماعية لمن هم في الشوارع؛ وكيف ينظر الناس إلى بعضهم البعض، وكيف كان الرجال يشيرون بأصابعهم من وراء ظهورهم إلى الوشاة أو إلى رجال فرع المعلومات المارين على الدراجات النارية.

وفي وقت كنا نشرب القهوة ونتبادل أطراف الحديث لم يكف ربيع عن التذمر من واقع أنه لم يجد أحدا لإقراضه 5 آلاف دولار حتى “يستطيع الخروج من هنا وعدم العودة أبدا”. سألتهما عن الانتخابات المقبلة وإذا كانوا سيذهبون للتصويت. أصر ربيع أنه إذا كان ذلك وسيلة لجمع الأموال “فهذا ما نريده. غير ذلك لا نريد أن نشارك في السياسة وألاعيب الحريري”. أحمد أسكت ربيع لأنه شعر بالاستفزاز من منطق ربيع فعبس وهمس باستهجان في أذنه “كل ما تفكر به هو المال. كم مرة ذهبنا إليهم [تيار المستقبل] حتى يبيعونا ومن ثم يشترونا؟” ومن ثم، التفت أحمد إلي، مقطب الوجه وتتصبب من جبينه حبيبات العرق، وبصوت لطيف قال لي: “الحياة أصبحت أصعب. المرء يجب أن يخشى الله ويصلي من أجل الخلاص، نحن نعيش في نهاية الزمان. الناس يفقدون كل أخلاقهم. وهذا لا يطاق، الناس يبيعون بعضهم البعض للحصول على بطاقة وحدات لشحن هواتفهم الخلوية أو لشراء الوقود لدراجاتهم الناري”. كان أحمد يتحدث عن المبالغ الضئيلة التي يدفعها فرع المعلومات للوشاية بارتكابات تافهة. ففي كل مرة يشون بمدخن سيجارة حشيشة أو سارق قطع سيارات يحصلون على الفتات. أو أسوأ من ذلك، الوشاية تبدأ باستغلال المناصب لإقامة خصومات عن طريق اختلاق الاتهامات. من الواضح، أن استياء الناس ليس موجها ضد الوشاة، إنما تجاه سياسيَين سنيَين: نهاد المشنوق وسعد الحريري. “سعد وأزلامه يلعبون بنا ويبيعوننا، لم يتركوا لنا شيئا في بيروت واليوم المشنوق يريد أكل الأخضر واليابس”، قال ربيع في حين كان ينظر إلى أحمد للموافقة على حديثه. أحمد، هز رأسه موافقا، وقال إن “المشنوق يريد تأديبنا، وأطلق فرع المعلومات لهذا الغرض ولاستغلال فقر الناس، فيستخدم نقطة الضعف ضدنا. وهم يعرفون أن الناس مفلسة ويتم شراءها بسهولة وبأرخص الأسعار”.

ليس من قبيل المبالغة القول إنه ومنذ نشأة الدولة اللبنانية يعتمد الأغنياء أو العائلات البرجوازية التابعة للاستعمار على المؤسسات الأمنية لامتهان الإنسانية وبث الفرقة ومعاقبة الفقراء بسبب فقرهم. وزير الداخلية الحالي، نهاد المشنوق، صنع لنفسه اسما بين المتظاهرين كـ “حارس للطبقة الثرية في لبنان”. مؤسسات الدولة اللبنانية المختلة تجندت لقمع المتظاهرين السلميين بكفاءة غير مسبوقة. وأثبت وزير الداخلية أن الدولة تقوم “بوظائفها” حين يتعلق الأمر بحماية الممتلكات المخصخصة.

اليوم، يعزم وزير الداخلية على سحق أفقر قطاعات المدينة لضرب وحدة أولئك الذين يعانون من البطالة أو شبه البطالة، ومعاقبتهم بسبب فقرهم ومنع تمردهم. أولئك الذين لا يستطيعون الذهاب إلى الأماكن المخصخصة أو إلى الحانات/المقاهي ينتهي بهم الأمر في تمضية ليالي الصيف الحارة في الشوارع. ثقافة الوشاية الجديدة خُلقت لتكفيك روح التضامن بين الناس الذين لا يمتلكون امتيازات التنظيم والإضراب؛ أولئك الذين اعتادوا على إغلاق الشوارع بالإطارات المشتعلة احتجاجا على الانقطاع الشديد للتيار الكهربائي أو انقطاع المياه أو حين تكدست النفايات أمام بيوتهم اليوم باتوا لا يثقون ببعضهم البعض. في نهاية المطاف، حالة الارتياب التي أنشأتها الوشاية تمنع الاندماج بين مختلف الفقاعات الاجتماعية في بيروت. حالة البارانويا حثها سحق روح التمرد عند قطاع واسع من الشباب الذي كانوا في طليعة الاحتجاجات في الصيف الماضي وتلقوا القسم الأغلب من قمع الشرطة الوحشي.

وهكذا، وقبل أسبوع واحد من الانتخابات القسم الوحيد من الشعب الذي حركته الدوافع السياسية بكثير من الحماس كانوا شباب الأشرفية ومار مخايل وبدارو والحمرا. وهم يشكلون ديمغرافية المجتمع المدني التي تمظهرت أمامنا من خلال حملتين منقسمتين: “بيروت مدينتي” و”مواطنون ومواطنات في دولة”. في 23 نيسان/ابريل، وقبل أسبوعين من يوم الانتخاب أصدر وزير الداخلية تعميما غير مسبوق طلب بموجبه من المحافظين “إقفال جميع الملاهي الليلية”، و”طلب إقفال المقاهي والمطاعم عند الساعة الواحدة بعد منتصف الليل من يوم السبت الذي يسبق كل مرحلة انتخابية”. اعتبر العديد من ناشطي المجتمع المدني أن هذه الخطوة تحد من القدرة على تعبئة الناخبين، ضربة لأولئك ينشطون بين كؤوس الشراب وسط أجواء احتفالية مبهجة.

“عندما يفوزون سينضمون إلى السياسيين وسيصبحون مثلهم”. هذه الملاحظة تشاركها الكثيرون ممن لا يؤمنون بأن التغيير لا يمكن أن يأتي من داخل النظام السياسي الفاسد في لبنان. هذه اللامبلاة تجاة السياسة نبعت من حقيقة أن الناس قد فقدوا الثقة في كل مكونات النظام السياسي الحالي والدولة كمؤسسة يفترض أن تعمل لصالح الجميع. وقد تزايدت حيرة الناس لمواكبة أولئك الذين يدعون للتغيير أي المجتمع المدني: “اليوم الأول يتظاهرون لإسقاط النظام وفي اليوم الثاني يترشحون إلى الانتخابات للانضمام إلى نفس النظام السياسي”، هو شعور ردده الكثير من الناس. من الواضح، أن تردد المجتمع المدني في التقاط روح التغيير الجذرية جعله يبدو خجولا وغير صالح لتجسيد خط ثالث خارج الثنائية السياسية المتمثلة بـ 8 و14 آذار/مارس. كثيرون في لبنان يتحدثون عن ضرورة التخلص من الأحزاب السياسية القديمة، وخطورة الوضع تعني أن الناس مستعدة للمضي قدما وراء ما رمزت إليه التظاهرات والشروع بتغيير جذري يحقق حلولا جذرية.

أمل أو وهم؟

ربما أفضل طريقة لتوضيح حملة بيروت مدينتي هي عبر رؤيتها بما هي عليه: مسابقة للابداع والتصميم للترويج لحلول العالم الأول. ربما كانت حملة بيروت مدينتي مقدمة لأسبوع التصميم في بيروت، منذ أن صورت الانتخابات البلدية من خلال أشرطة فيديو انتشرت عبر وسائل الإعلام الاجتماعية مظهرة خمسين درجة من مدينة مستقبلية ولكن ليست بيروت. كل ذلك جعل المرء يفكر أن مشكلة فشل الدولة في لبنان ستُحَل من خلال أفكار التصميم الإبداعي التي تنتج المزيد من “التحسين العقاري”. بعبارة أخرى، كانت حملة بيروت مدينتي رؤية 1 بالمئة يسقطون أحلام 1 بالمئة على 1 بالمئة.

كل أنواع الأحلام المستوردة من العالم الأول غمرت الخط الزمني في وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي خلال الحملة الانتخابية واعدة (بغير واقعية) ببيروت رائعة جديدة. والمدينة الموعودة ليست سوى المدينة الموجودة حاليا: ناد خاص جذاب لأولئك الذين استولوا عليه.

أفضل ما يمكنه وصف الانتخابات الأخيرة هو أنها كانت تنافسا بين رؤيتين رأسماليتين أو طريقتي إنتاج. كل من الطبقة الحاكمة ورجال الأعمال الطموحين تنافسوا لتنفيذ رؤاهم الرأسمالية. من جهة لدينا المدرسة القديمة للسياسات البرجوازية الطائفية-المافياوية-الإقطاعية الرأسمالية وجدت نفسها في مواجهة خصم يرتدي نفس السترة الرأسمالية النيوليبرالية. كانت أعين الطرفين تتجه إلى بقرة واحدة في لبنان حيث الجميع يريد الحليب: قطاع الخدمات. الجعجعة السياسية والحملات الانتخابية حول كيفية الترويج للقطاع الخدمات التي غمرت الخط الزمني لوسائل التواصل الاجتماعية قبل أيام من الانتخابات. في الأسابيع التي تلت انتخابات بيروت استعدت بقية المناطق للانتخاب، ولكن الدعوات العالية النبرة لـ “التغيير والإصلاح” التي سبقت انتخابات بيروت خمدت في بيروت في اليوم الذي أعقب الانتخابات حين انتزعتها القوى المسيطرة. هذه اللامبالاة تجاه بلدات ومدن أخرى خارج العاصمة توضح النطاق الضيق للتغيير الذي يحد المجتمع المدني نفسه. وواقع أن أي إجراء قانوني لم يتخذ ضد التزوير الموثق للانتخابات من القوى المهيمنة يعني أن المجتمع المدني كان متراخيا معهم.

فراغ سياسي

قبل يوم من الانتخابات البلدية لاحظتُ موقفين سادا شوارع الطريق الجديدة: إحدى الزوايا شهدت صخب الانتخابات المألوفة أما الزاوية الأخرى فسادها شعور من اللامبالاة وانعدام ثقة متزايد بالتمثيل السياسي المحلي. نُظِمت حملة انتخابية مدفوعة: أُقيمت الخيم البلاستيكية في الزوايا تظلل الكراسي البيضاء الفارغة؛ نُظِمت مسيرات للدرجات النارية التي جالت حول منطقة الطريق الجديدة مسببة إزعاج شديد. وبدلا من تشجيع ناخبي المستقبل فقد تحول كل ذلك إلى مصدر للإزعاج للسكان الذين استثيروا فشتموا سائقي الدراجات النارية و”حريرهم”. وقد تحدثت إلى مجموعة من 5 سائقي دراجات الذين ألصقوا عليها صور سعد الحريري وملصقات تيار المستقبل. بالنسبة لهم كل المسألة تتعلق بوقود مجاني للدراجات و”بعض المال السهل” للقيام بما يحلو لهم: القيادة وإطلاق أبواق دراجاتهم والسير بها على دولابها الخلفي والقيام بكل ما من شأنه أن يشكل مخالفة سير يمكن أن يلاحقوا بسببه لو قاموا به خلال أي يوم عادي. بهذا تتلخص الانتخابات البلدية لهؤلاء الشباب والعديد من أقرانهم في الطريق الجديدة. ومن بين الذين تحفظوا عن التحدث علنا قالوا: “سعد (الحريري) ضعيف، ولن يكون قادرا على تمثيلنا نحن السنة كما فعل والده”. وكان واضحا أن القاعدة الداعمة للحريري فارغة، أو، بعبارة أدق، غير متاحة له، كما ظهر في نسبة المشاركة المنخفضة في يوم الانتخابات. ومع ذلك، السياسة البديلة المفترضة لبيروت مدينتي لم يُسمَع لها صوت في الطريق الجديدة (البعض يقول أنه رأى شعارات لبيروت مدينتي فيها على الفايسبوك). بيروت مدينتي أو مواطنون/ات في دولة لم يقرعوا أي جرس لسائقي الدراجات النارية؛ وذلك يعني أن نطاق حملة “المجتمع المدني” لم تتخط حدود الفقاعة(ات) الاجتماعية. وأعربت أغلبية الناس الذين التقيت بهم في الطريق الجديدة عن عدم إيمانهم بالسياسة وأبدوا شعورا عاما تجاه بيروت مدينتي/مواطنون/ات في دولة “كلهم يتشابهون؛ إذا كانوا اليوم نظيفين فإنهم سيصبحون فاسدين مثل الموجودين حاليا (السياسيون)”. هذا الشعور هو صدى للشعار الذي أطلق خلال احتجاجات الصيف الماضي: كلن يعني كلن.

الاستياء من الحريري ليس جديدا، فقد تراجعت شعبيته باستمرار خلال السنوات الأخيرة، ولكن اليوم يتم التعبير عن ذلك بصوت أعلى. الأصوات البيروتية التي يحتاجها للفوز والاستمرار بالسيطرة على بلدية بيروت لم تصوت يوم الانتخاب للائحته “زي ما هي”. “زي ما هي” كان شعار رفيق الحريري خلال ذروة أيامه عندما جسد شخصية بطريرك السنة، “أبو الفقراء” كما يتصوره أنصاره.

بالإضافة إلى ذلك، قاعدته الانتخابية في بيروت وفي مناطق أخرى قد حادت عنه في حين ذهب إلى التزلج. “شكرا لسعد الحريري وعائلته. الفلسطينيون ليسوا وحدهم من يعيش في مخيمات” قال عمر مصري، 34 سنة، الذي كان في طريقه إلى عمله الثاني كحارس في شركة أمنية خاصة لحماية مبنى في منطقة الطبقة الغنية برأس بيروت. “في البداية والده ومن ثم هو (سعد الحريري) تابع إجبار البيروتيين للخروج من العاصمة وهم اليوم في عرمون. هذا هو مخيم اللاجئين السنة الذي أعطانا إياه الحريري. أنا أقيم في برجا وأعمل في بيروت، ولكنني أكرهها وأكره حياتي في برجا. لم أتوقف أبدا عن التفكير والندم على اليوم الذي غادرنا فيه بيروت، كان أسوأ يوم في حياتي. أريد العودة للعيش في بيروت ولكن الأمر بات مستحيلا، بيروت مكلفة للغاية ونحن لن نستطيع العودة إليها. كيف يجرؤ الحريري أن يظهر [على الإعلام] ويطلب منا أن ننتخبه. تيار المستقبل دعاني اليوم وقال لي: عليك أن تنتخب، قلت لهم: لا، لن أنتخب، إذا أمنوا لي وظيفة براتب يوم الانتخاب سأقوم بها، ولكن لن أصوت. حتى لو دفع لي تيار المستقبل ثمن صوتي فلن أعطيه لسعد. أنا أعيش في برجا لماذا يتوقع مني الحريري أن أصوت في بيروت؟ فهو لم يترك لي أي شيء في بيروت”.

في نهاية الأمر، الغش والخداع أديا إلى فوز الحريري والطبقة المهيمنة في الانتخابات البلدية في بيروت. ولكن انخفاض نسبة المشاركة في بيروت وخسارة الحريري في طرابلس تعنيان أن سيطرته (أو تيار المستقبل) قد تكون شارفت على نهايتها كزعيم سياسي للسنة في لبنان.

هذا الجمود السياسي الطويل هو جوهر النموذج اللبناني: تجزئة العدد القليل من السكان بواسطة مافيا سياسية تتلاعب بهم بواسطة سياسات الهوية. هذا الوضع يجعل مسألة التغيير صعبة التحقيق عندما يصبح مستحيلا التشبيك والتنظيم في نفس الشارع. في هذه المرحلة يبدو أن الناس قد فقدوا القدرة على الوحدة ضد عدو مشترك. الدولة، والفروع الأمنية، لا تضيع أي جهد لمنع، بكل الوسائل المتاحة، لإقامة الروابط بين الناشطين أصحاب الامتيازات من الطبقة الوسطى والمنتمين للمجتمع المدني وكل الذين يعيشون خارج فقاعات بيروت المدعية. التغيير الحقيقي يتطلب تضامنا حقيقيا، وذلك يحصل عبر التواصل والتشبيك ولاحقا التنظيم على صعيد البلد ككل لحركة تهدف إلى اختراق الانقسامات الاجتماعية والطبقية. الكلفة يجب تفهمها من حيث التضحيات التي ستنجم عن تنظيم صراع قاس طويل الأمد. الوقت هو الآن لحشد الطاقات الشبابية؛ لامتلاك الشجاعة والانضباط للعمل معا ووضع الوسائل الاستراتيجية للنصر. منذ تظاهرات الصيف الماضي، أدركنا أن الهدف ليس إيصال بعض الأفراد أو المجموعات إلى السلطة لكن الضرورة التاريخية تكمن بإنهاء الفوارق الطبقية وحشد الضربة القاضية لتحطيم النظام الطائفي ككل.

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Beirut: Vacuum and Despair

we-want

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.

This article was first published on al-Manshour

On the first week of May Beirut was engulfed by a heat induced stench emitting from the trash heaps mutating since last summer. Amid trash, heat and chaos Beirut was readying itself for municipal elections. One afternoon I was rolling around my city sitting in the passenger seat next to a taxi driver listening and nodding absentmindedly to his boasting about his sexual adventures. We slowly came to a halt just outside Gemayzi police station, and this is when my taxi ride became amusing. There was a white police SUV ahead of us trying to pull in and park at the entrance of the police station. A commotion, a shout and a valet parking runner popped out of nowhere launching his body towards the policeman’s vehicle smacking his hand on the dusty hood while shouting “Stop! Stop! What do you think you are doing?  Go away, you can’t park here it’s Friday, this spot is reserved”. A few seconds passed, the dumbfound policeman frozen behind his steering wheel, his ride immobile in the middle of the street. A long trail of cars piled up behind us and honked, an outraged orchestra. There was another policeman at the entrance of the police station, this one moved sheepishly towards his colleague and waved for him to backup directing him to park. Once the valet parking gathered that he was being ignored he fumed and yelled out profanities at both policemen concluding with “Yalla (C’mon on) ya a’rrs (you pimp) drive away, park elsewhere, get out of here quickly”. His warning and intimidation fired up the policeman’s vehicle; wheels turned then in a splash it was gone. The other policeman was left exposed on the sidewalk, he avoided looking at the valet parking man. So he dropped his head towards his rifle that was hanging limply between his legs like a dog’s tail and shuffled back to his post. As if we were watching reality TV the taxi driver and I sat through a show featuring power dynamics on the streets of Beirut. We were still digesting what we saw, taken aback by amusement and amazement, then at the same time we turned to face each other grinning ear to ear “did you see what just happened?” The taxi driver pulled out his cigarettes chuckled and spoke as if he was talking to himself “(lek el-manyak) see the fucker! That boy who parks people’s cars has got more authority than the police that polices us.” He took a drag on his cigarette and puffed out his last comment, “God damn this country”.

I later found out that Gemayzi was a Kataeb turf and that the valet parking company was one of many corners on that turf. It’s also worth mentioning here that Gemayzi police station is notorious for repressing peaceful protesters refugees and migrant workers.

Last May Beirut’s walls featured airbrushed faces of hopeful candidates running for municipal elections. The competition over Beirut’s municipality was a mix of frantic campaigning, a chance for entrepreneurs and aspiring individuals who can afford to dream and participate in the democratic charade. And like all previous elections in Lebanon this one too was a money making season for advertising companies, print shops and an opportunity for many to sell their votes. Essentially, the latest elections in Beirut unravelled the limited scope of influence of the civil-society and it left some politicians stripped of their partisanship: it created a void. Thus, the most important result of Beirut’s municipal elections was the political vacuum it unveiled. There was a 20% turnout on election day and a stark absence of an 80% dejected majority.

 

Differing prospects, (in)different bubbles

During the run-up to elections day the different social bubbles of Beirut had differing expectations to meet on Sunday the 8th of May. From inside the civil-society circles one rubbed shoulders at bars and cafés with the most agile campaigners. Young girls and boys buzzed around in white t-shirts emanating an omnipresent feeling of what could be described as euphoric young bodies fuelled by the ecstasy of collective action for political mobilisation. Volunteers of different ages campaigned tirelessly and organized their friends and family members because “every vote counts” and “we need to win. We want change”. Stylish young upper-class hipstery Lebanese yearned for change because “we can’t take it any more” and “we want clean streets, less traffic jams and we need to have a sustainable solution to solve our trash crisis”. I bumped into some of those boys and girls at the Food Market—a regular overpriced street food extravagance in downtown—who were volunteers with Beirut Madinati. We chatted about the upcoming elections shouting over loud euro-trash music that was blasting in the background. Their zeal while campaigning for Beirut Madinati on top of their American accented English made one feel that BM’s campaign was on par with Bernie Sanders’.

In contrast, outside the civil-society’s comfort zones an atmosphere of political apathy dominated many streets of Beirut. The lack of interest in politics and the upcoming elections was especially present in areas that were considered a support base for Future Party. On election day Hariri’s “Sunni electoral reservoir” Tarik Jdeedi didn’t flood the polling stations as Saad al-Hariri had wished. Conversely, Tarik Jdeedi’s streets were filled with political apathy and indifference towards Future Party politics. Disillusionment with Hariri was more vociferous in Beirut than at any other time, many of those who used to be Hariri diehards wished to witness his demise on May 8th. This sentiment was often expressed behind closed doors two years ago today its out on the streets, “We want him [Hariri] to lose the elections, as a lesson for this shit situation he got us into” announced one man in his early forties, a clothing-business owner, who also urged his neighbours on Afif al-Tebi street to boycott Hariri. For such disdain expressed publicly without generating any reaction in the middle of Tarik Jdeedeh means that Harirism is past its expiry date as a Sunni political representative in Lebanon.

These days the vibe on streets in Tarik Jdeedi is one dominated by social alienation and paranoia. Those streets are now living the repercussions and side effects of an intense last decade of Hariri’s toxic sectarian political gambles.  Street corners that used to accommodate loitering young men, some under employed and many unemployed, became a place for these same men to avoid. Those who used to spend their time on corners to pass time over sunflower seeds or in times when Future Party turned these corners to neighbourhood security watch–during before and after May 2008 clashes–are today out of sight. Some of the men who used to flock to these corners “went to Syria and were never heard of since” others “went to Syria and were martyred there” and “the lucky ones jumped the boats and are now in Sweden or Germany”. As for those who remain on the streets today they are broken-down, fragmented, filled with hate and suspicious of each other. These men who used to fume with Sunni chauvinism fed to them by their Future Party leaders today can’t get over the fact that they were backstabbed by those same leaders. They are now caught up in a nasty game: snitching on one another to al-Ma’loumat (the Information Branch).

Al-Ma’loumat, a security branch created by the al-Hariri family, is today under the influence of minister of interior and Future Party MP Nohad al-Mashnouk. The Information Branch is a model that represents the sectarian disintegration for each component of the Lebanese state security apparatuses. It used to be perceived by many Lebanese Sunnis as “their security branch” but at the moment al-Ma’loumat is a brute muscle force deployed against all. Since the tragic end of protests of summer 2015 Beirut’s civil-society back tracked from direct action and went on campaigning for municipal elections among themselves, in the meantime al-Ma’aloumat was bent on a strategy of containment. The security branch has since infiltrated the poorest among Beirut’s youth: grooming snitches, creating a culture of paranoia and distrust; dividing and conquering low income neighbourhoods. As Beirut turns into a police-state al-Ma’loumat infiltrates some sections of the city to force its hegemony on the streets and dominates the various human networks. Furthermore, Al-Ma’loumat’s thuggish practices found an alliance with Amal’s  gangsters when they jointly attacked peaceful protesters last summer.

I spoke to two young men who I first met in 2008. Back then they were among a politically flamboyant and sectarian macho crew who used to man-up street corners as Future Party partisans playing cards and smoking out while “waiting for Shia to attack”. Rabie, Ahmad and I hung-out on a side street in Qasqas, a TJ neighbourhood. After we exchanged pleasantries I asked about the situation in their area. “What? Didn’t you hear? Where were you? Did you see what Mashnouk has done to us?” Ahmad and Rabie shot back with regret when I asked about the rest of their crew. “No one trusts anyone anymore, they are all screwing each other for al-Ma’loumat.” While hanging out with Rabie and Ahmad I partook in observing a reality unfolds the dynamics of social-relations by those on the streets; the way people looked at each other and how fingers would point behind the backs of men indicating silently a snitch or a Ma’loumat agent had just rolled by on a scooter.

While sipping coffee and chatting on the street Rabie kept whingeing over the fact that he couldn’t find anyone to lend him $5000 so he “can get out of this place and never return”. I asked about the upcoming elections and if they are going to vote. Rabie insisted that if there is easy money to be made from elections “that’s what we want. other than that we don’t want to get involved in politics and Hariri’s games.” He was cut short by Ahmed who was provoked by Rabie’s reasoning he scowled and hissed at Rabie “All you think about is money. How many times are we going to let them (Future party) buy us then sell us?” Ahmed then turned to me, his scowling face was popping out beads of sweat, his voice softer, “life has become difficult. one must fear god and pray for salvation, we are living the end times. people are losing all their morals. Its unbearable, people are selling each other for a recharge phone card or a gas top-up for their scooters.” Ahmad was talking about the petty cash supplied by al-Ma’loumat branch for snitching on insignificant delinquencies. For example, each time someone snitches against one of their friends for smoking a joint or for stolen car parts the snitch gets a crumb. Or, even worse, snitches start using their position to settle rivalries by fabricating accusations. Evidently, people’s resentment is not directed against the snitches among them, but was projected towards two Sunni politicians: Nohad al-Mashnouk and Saad al-Hariri. “Saad and his people played us and sold us, they left us nothing in Beirut and now Mashnouk is here to devour all green and dry” said Rabie while eyeing Ahmad for approval. Ahmed shook his head in agreement and said, “al-Mashnouk wants to chastise us, he unleashed al-Ma’loumat on us for that purpose and to exploit people’s poverty and uses it as a point of weakness against us. They know people are bankrupt and are easily bought for the cheapest prices.”

mashnouq Chak noris.jpg

 “Nohad al-Mashnouk thinks he is Chuck Norris.” A protester’s sign from summer 2015 protests in Downtown Beirut photo by author.

It’s no exaggeration to say that since Lebanon’s colonial inception the rich or the colonial bourgeoisie families relied on state-security institutions to dehumanise, divide and punish the poor for their poverty. The current minister of interior Nohad al-Mashnouk made a name for himself last summer among protesters as “the guardian of Lebanon’s moneyed class”. The notoriously dysfunctional Lebanese state mobilized the repression of the peaceful protestors with unprecedented efficiency. The minister of interior proved that the state is actually functional when it comes to protecting privatized property.

Today, the minister of interior is bent on crushing the poorest sections of the city to strike the unity of those who are unemployed or underemployed, punishing them for their poverty and preventing their outburst. Those who can’t afford to go out to privatized venues or to bars/cafes end-up spending the long hot summer nights on their streets. The recent snitch culture was created to dismantle the very spirit of solidarity that invigorates the unprivileged to organize and strike; those who used to block streets with burning tires to protest severe power cuts or water cuts or when trash piled outside their doorstep today don’t trust each other. Ultimately, distrust created by snitches prevents a merger between the different social-bubbles of Beirut. The paranoia induced by distrust crushes the spirit of rebellion within the city’s broken youth who were the vanguards of last summer’s protests and on the receiving end of the most police brutality.

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 Salim Slam bridge Beirut trash protests summer 2015 photo by author

Thus, one week before election day the only people who were politically motivated with much enthusiasm to vote were young people in Ashrafeye, Mar-Mikhail, Badaro downtown and Hamra. Those are the civil-society demographics presented in two divided camps of Beirut Madinati (Beirut my city) and Muwatinun wa Muwatinat fi Dawla (Citizens Within the State). On Saturday night before election day the minister of interior issued an unusual decree ordering cafés bars and night clubs to stop playing music by 8pm and to serve their last call by midnight. Mashnouk’s move of containment was perceived by many members of the civil-society as a move to limit them from recruiting voters, a knock back to those campaigning over drinks amid a euphoric party atmosphere.

 “When they win and join the politicians they will become just like them”. This observation was shared by many who don’t believe that change could come from inside of Lebanon’s corrupted political system. This apathy towards politics stems from the fact that people have lost faith in all components of the current political system and the state as a functioning institution for all. It also became increasingly confusing for people to keep up with those who’ve been calling for change i.e. the civil-society: “one day they protest to topple the regime the next day they are running for elections to join the same defunct political system” a sentiment echoed by many. Evidently, the hesitance to capture the spirit of drastic change by the civil-society is making them look timid and unfit to embody a political third-line outside the straightjackets of March 8 and March 14 political blocs. Many in Lebanon nowadays speak about the need to get rid of the same old political parties, the severity of the situation means people are ready to move on beyond the symbolism of protests and embark on radical change for radical solutions.

Hope or delusion?

Maybe the best way to illustrate Beirut Madinati’s campaign is to view it for what it was: a creativity and design competition promoting first world countries’ solutions. Perhaps Beirut Madinati’s campaign was a prelude to Beirut design week, since the municipal elections was portrayed through flowery social media videos that featured fifty shades of a futuristic city but not Beirut. It made one think that the failed state of Lebanon will simply be solved through creative design ideas the kind that usually result in more gentrification. In other words, Beirut Madinati’s campaign was a vision by the one percent projecting the dreams of the one percent to the one percent.

 All types of imported first world dreams flooded social media timelines during election campaigning promising a (unrealistic) brave new Beirut. And that brave new Beirut was more of the same one that currently exists: a glitzy private club for those who got it.

 What could best describe this recent election is that it was a competition between two capitalist visions or modes of production. Both the ruling class and the upcoming entrepreneurs vied to implement their capitalistic visions. There was the old school Mafioso-feudal-sectarian-bourgeoisie capitalist politics who found themselves facing a no match foe but a foe nonetheless dressed in a neo-Liberal capitalist outfit. Both camps had their eyes on the one cow in Lebanon that everyone wants to milk: the service sector.  The political fanfare and campaigning around how to rebrand that service industry that flooded social-media timelines before elections day fizzled out just a few days after elections. In the weeks that followed Beirut’s elections the rest of Lebanon’s regions were getting ready to vote, however the deafening calls for “change and reform” that preceded Beirut’s elections died in Beirut the day after elections were snatched by the establishment. Such indifference towards other towns and cities outside the capital illustrates the narrow scope of change the civil-society limits itself to. The fact that no legal action was taken against documented election fraud by the establishment meant that the civil-society was complacent.

Political Vacuum

On the day before elections I noted two predominant attitudes on the streets of Tarik Jdeedi: in one corner there was the familiar election hustle on the other corner an increasing apathy and distrust in their local political representation. There were organized and paid campaign activities: plastic tents lodged on corners shading unoccupied white plastic chairs; organized scooter mobs who rumbled around the vicinity of TJ trailing a loud commotion. Instead of ramping up Future voters they turned into a nuisance that agitated the public into curses against the scooters and ‘their Hariri’. I chatted to a group of five scooter-boys sticking the last pieces of sellotape to plaster their scooters in Future posters and Saad Hariri’s pictures. To these boys the whole thing meant “free gas” for their scooters and “some easy cash on the side” to do what they like best: driving around honking while doing wheelies and basically being obnoxious without having the police ambushing them as on normal days. This, I thought, summed up the elections for this group of youth and many of their peers from Tarik Jdeedi. Among those some felt no reservation to speak publicly and said “Saad (Hariri) is weak, he’ll never be able to represent us Sunnis as his father did”. It was evident that Hariri’s support base was empty, or, to put it more precisely, unavailable to him, as the low voting turnout showed on election day. However, the supposedly alternative politics of Beirut Madinati hadn’t been heard of on the streets in Tarik Jdeedi (some said they spotted BM’s slogans on Facebook). Beirut Madinati or Mouwatinat didn’t ring any bells for the scooter-boys; this meant that the scope of ‘civil-society’ campaigning didn’t reach beyond their social bubble(s). The majority of people I encountered in TJ voiced disbelief in politics and expressed a universal feeling regarding Beirut Madinati/Mouwatinat “they are all the same: if they are clean today they will be as corrupt as the ones (politicians) we have now”. This sentiment also echo’s a slogan held aloft during the protests of last summer: Kilon ya’ni kilon (All of them [politicians] mean all of them).

Resentments against Hariri are not new, disintegration among his partisanship have accrued in the last ten years, these days it’s just voiced louder. The votes of Beiruties that Hariri needed to win and keep control over Beirut’s municipality didn’t turn out on election day to vote for his list “as it is”. “As it is” was Rafiq Hariri’s motto during his heydays when he once embodied a Sunni patriarch persona; a “father of the poor” as his supporters imagined him.

Furthermore, Saad Hariri’s constituency in Beirut and elsewhere moved on while he was gone skiing. “Thanks to Saad Hariri and his family Palestinians are no longer the only ones living in camps”. Said Omar Masri, 34, who was on his way to his second job as a private security guard protecting a building in upper-class area of Ras Beirut.  “First his father then him (Saad Hariri) continued to force Beiruties out of Beirut and now they are in Aramoun. This is the Sunni refugees camp that Hariri gave us. I live in Barja (a southern town just before Saida) and work in Beirut, but I hate it there I hate my life in Barja. I never stop thinking and regretting the day we left Beirut, that was the worst day of life. I want to return to live in Beirut but it’s impossible, Beirut is too expensive we can’t afford to return. How dare he (Hariri) show up and ask us to vote for him. The Future Party called me today and said I have to vote, I told them I’m not voting. If they’ve got a paid job for me on elections day I’ll do it, but voting I will not do. Even if Future offered to pay for my vote I don’t want to give it to Saad. I live in Barja now why does Hariri expect me to vote in Beirut? There is nothing that he left for me in Beirut”.

In the end fraud and deception led Hariri and the political establishment to win Beirut municipal elections. But the low turnout in Beirut and later Hariri losing Tripoli meant that this might be the last hand that Hariri (or his Future Party) can play as a leading Sunni politician in Lebanon.

 

  This brutally consuming political deadlock is the essence of the Lebanese example: in its fragmentation of a small population ruled over by a political mafia manipulating identity politics. This situation makes change hard to attain it when it becomes impossible to connect and organize on the same street. At this point people seem to have lost the ability to unite against a mutually recognizable common enemy. The state, or some security branches, is not wasting any efforts to prohibit, by all means available, connections between privileged middle-upper class youth namely those of the civil-society and the have-nots everywhere outside ostentatious Beirut bubbles. A true change requires real solidarity, it will happen only through connecting, networking and later organizing a nationwide movement that aims to infiltrate social and class divides. The cost must be understood in terms of sacrifices that will result from organising for a long harsh struggle. The time is now for youthful energies to galvanize; to find the courage and discipline to work together and plot the strategic means of victory.  Since last summer’s protests we realized that the objective is not to raise to power of certain individuals or groups but the historical necessity to end class inequalities and muster a final blow to shatter the defunct sectarian system as such.

 

Male Privilege Breeds a Killer Patriarchy

Today, when I looked at my Facebook page the first thing I read and reacted to was Kafa’s post decrying injustice in the case of the slain woman Manal al-Assi.

 

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.”

 

والدة رولا يعقوب من الاعتصام الثاني في خلال شهر للمطالبة بتمييز الحكم الظالم #منال_العاصي

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.

 

 

The country of monsters killed Hassan.

Hassan

Hassan Raheb

 

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.”

#downwithDaesh

#downwithAssadfascistregime

#downwithisrael

#downwithallsectsandparties

#downwithallregimes”

 

hassan 2

hasan fb

 

The Protests in Lebanon Three Months After

By Moe Ali Nayel and Lamia Moghnieh   November 7, 2015 published first on New Politics. Click here for original link.

 

A reading of police coercive strategies, emerging social movements and achievements

 

By Moe Ali Nayel and Lamia Moghnieh   November 7, 2015

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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.

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This regime is bad for: 1-Refugees; 2-Migrant workers; 3- LGBTQ, signed by the popular student movement, Lebanese University (source: Moe Ali Nayel)

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.

Image

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.

Pianist flees Yarmouk camp for Germany

My latest with Electronic Intifada 

Aeham Ahmed, the Yarmouk camp pianist. Laila Ben Allal
Aeham Ahmed, the Yarmouk camp pianist. Laila Ben Allal

 

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.

Grief
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.

Munich
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.”

Eid
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.

الراب في شوارع بيروت

Arabic article I wrote for Ma3azef مقالي الاول في الكتابة العربية نشر على موقغ معازف 

 

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”.

El-Rass's lyrics and other hip-hop artists took over the walls of down-town Beirut during the protests.
El-Rass’s lyrics and other hip-hop artists took over the walls of down-town Beirut during the protests.

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.