Geagea and Aoun’s New Love Fest: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun

In a widely predicted move, LF leader Samir Geagea and FPM leader Michel Aoun came out with a political understanding yesterday that saw the former supporting the latter for Lebanon’s presidency, after about 33 failed attempts at electing a president and 30 years of the same practiced politics.

Lebanon’s Christian field was predominantly supportive. After all, the whole burying the hatchet fest that we saw on TV was done because Christianity, and Christians sure love seeing #TeamJesus in all its glory on Lebanese TV.

The Good:

We can now say that on January 18th, 2016, after around 30 years of feud, Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun finally saw eye to eye in something. A more zealous response would be: LET THEM KNOW NOW THAT CHRISTIANS WILL NEVER BE PUT ASIDE AGAIN, etc. But that’s not really the case.

It’s good to see a semblance of unity occur regardless of what that unity might mean. It’s good to see Geagea and Aoun talk things out.

But.

The Bad:

Many think that this move was visionary. The fact of the matter is it’s nothing other than reactionary to Saad Hariri nominating Sleiman Frangieh for president a few weeks ago. The only disturbance in the presidential race, protracted and dull as it was, was Saad Hariri’s deal back in November-December. That disturbance became the catalyst behind both the FPM and the LF’s deal today in order to “reclaim” their constitution-given Christian right.

How good can a move made in reaction and spite be, rather than it being foreseeing and contemplative, especially in the grand picture of Lebanese politics that not only requires foresight to navigate its murky waters? Why don’t you refer to Jumblat for that?

What this move does is not elevate the level of politics that Geagea and Aoun are practicing. It’s not a good thing that Lebanon’s Christian community is now practicing the same kind of tribal politics that the country’s other factions do. By “uniting,” Geagea and Aoun moved from their failed politics on a national level to failed politics on a sectarian level.

Yes, they were Christian leaders first and foremost, many of their policies had inter-sectarian tendencies. How will they move from here? Not in that way, clearly.

The move also comes to the backdrop of a 10 point agreement that the two forged over the past 6 months. It reads as follows:

Geagea Aoun Agreement

The agreement’s key points then are the following:

  • No use of weapons in case of conflict,
  • Supporting the Lebanese army in governing the entirety of Lebanon’s territories alone,
  • A Switzerland-esque foreign policy to get the country to avoid struggles,
  • Supporting UN resolutions,
  • A new electoral law.

Sure, those headlines are all wonderful, and looking at them with no critical thought warrants giving their alliance a second thought. But you can’t not be critical of Lebanese political talk, and the question therefore becomes: how will they do them?

The difference in ideology between Geagea and Aoun is not only related to their Civil War days: the two were supremely divergent even in times of “peace.” They have not agreed on an electoral law other than the Orthodox Law, and even that agreement was more about whose balls are bigger rather than it being done with political wisdom. They have not agreed on which kind of foreign policy they see best for the country. They have not agreed on which way is best to actually get the army to be the only rightful security force in the country, and how to implement all kinds of UN resolutions (hinting at ridding Hezbollah of its weapons).

Alliances need to have a minimum of common ideology. Establishing them just for the sake of common interests in the short run will prove, in the long run, to be detrimental, especially when it affects an entire community (in this case Lebanon’s Christians).

Is this how Christian rights are restored? By making Lebanon’s Christians more exclusive rather than inclusive? By making them more sequestered? By thirding the country instead of keeping it halved? By turning Christians from the entity that governed Lebanon’s dichotomy to another destabilizing agent in an unstable country?

Ignoring the differences that these two presented to Lebanon’s Christian community is the first step towards removing any semblance of democracy from that community. Difference is not to be feared in political contexts. Disregarding it is what’s scary.

The Ugly:

Geagea and Aoun made peace. But I have to wonder: what kind of peace?

They’re making the kind of peace that requires us to bury our heads in the sand, like the perpetual ostriches that our Lebanese existence has made us into; the kind of peace that does not deal with the past requiring such a peace to be made in the first place, effectively making it a recipe for impeding disaster.

The argument goes: other factions have done these peace making deals before, and as such Christians doing it should be celebrated. Making peace is good. But is it?

Is the peace made by Lebanon’s other war factions actual peace? The idea of making peace invokes stability. Is the country stable? Is making peace in spite of history not through it, as all those other factions have done, putting the country on the right path towards healing post our civil war?

I look around and see people from different sects still hating each other, still worried about the intentions of one another. I look around and see a political discourse that still gets those who have supposedly made up after our civil war to fear each other.

What kind of peace are they talking about then?

There are things that are a little too late, and this is one of them. Where was the common interest of Lebanon’s Christian community 30 years ago when these two were actively working on canceling each other out, when their wars tore apart Christian communities and left thousands of victims in their wake?

Yes, this is not the time to bring up war-time memories, but healing only starts with remembering.  Would there have been a need for such a “deal” to be made in 2016 had those two actually cared about the community they’re panicking about today back in the 1980s?

Peace cannot be made by those who only know war.

The Uglier:

I’m afraid to inform you my fellow Lebanese that this “alliance” does not, in any way, affect your life as a Lebanese in the ways that actually matter.

It will not bring you electricity.

It will not fix your garbage crisis.

It will not make your internet faster so you can stream Netflix.

It will not increase your minimum wage.

It will not make your passport worthwhile.

It will not stop the “SSSS” checks on your boarding passes and “random” checkups in airports.

It will not stop ISIS.

It will not extract the oil from our fields.

And, ironically, it does not even guarantee that a president be elected.

Our Lebanese reality cannot be changed when the same people who have been practicing their failed politics over us for 30 years start practicing their politics together.

The Funny:

To end this on a happier note, I can’t but share a few of the lighter tones with which some Lebanese handled the news, in the joke that this actually is:

The Stunning History Behind Ras Beirut’s Endangered “Red House”

Nestled in the heart of Hamra, on Abdel Aziz street leading to Bliss Street, is a house most of us passed by without noticing until very recently. Its red window tiles always caught my eye in the days when I used to frequent that area, but their history was never evident. Isn’t that the story everywhere in Beirut though? You pass by these gloriously beautiful old houses, sigh at their dismal prospects in a city that cares less about its history and more about its bottom line and just continue about without giving a second thought at the times and stories those walls inhabit.

Let me take you on a journey across Hamra’s Red House.

One Of The Oldest Houses in Ras Beirut:

The Red House is comprised of two stories, the first of which was built in the late 1700s, along with a small kitchen above it to consitute the first part of the second story which was later continued in the 1800s by the Rebeiz family, which was back then one of the main Orthodox families of Ras Beirut and a prime owner of much of the land upon which Hamra today is built.

The story of the Rebeiz family dates back to as far as the house they lived in: they came to Hamra around 400 years ago and slowly made their way up the echelons of society, buying land from the well-renowned Druze Talhouk family. Together with the other prominent Bekhazi family, they became forces to be reckoned with in their area. Their names became synonymous with Ras Beirut, and vice versa.

The Red House has housed many generations of the Rebeiz family, but its most prominent were two women: Samira and Marie Abdo Rebeiz, both of whom were widows who lived in the house in the early 20th century, and it is them that made the house the beacon of Ras Beiruti elite life.

Pioneering Matriarchs Of Ras Beirut’s Political Ring:

Marie ABdo Rbeiz

Marie Abdo Rebeiz was unfortunate enough to find herself a widow with two sons: Michel and Georges, at a very young age. Her plight was also shared by her cousin Samira Rebeiz who lost her husband at the tender age of 25, and was left with four children to take care of.

Marie Abdo then invited her cousin, whose inherited property had been taken by the rest of the Rebeiz family for fear of her remarrying out of the family, to live with her in Hamra’s Red House, along with her four children, in the “newer” upper story part of the house.

The two women co-existed quite well and their children grew up around each other. Michel, Marie Abdo’s son, still lives in the bottom floor of the house to this very day. Georges later became a prominent cardiologist in the area and has 3 children who currently inherited the house after their father’s passing a few months ago.

Marie Abdo and Samira, however, were extremely powerful women. They were so powerful in fact that they  had a major role to play in the dynamics of Beirut’s political life around that time: it is the Red House that became a reference for many of Ras Beirut’s elite politicians, of differing sects, in order to truly have a shot at whatever position they coveted: Marie Abdo and Samira were important electoral keys to the women of the area, the extended Rebeiz family and its 3000+ votes at the time. They kept a garden next to the house, cooked for their neighborhood and hosted many gatherings for the women of the region.

Among the politicians whose careers were majorly influenced by this house are Habib Abi Chahla, one of country’s independence heroes, Bahije Takieddine, Saeb Salam – father of current PM Tamam Salam, Sami el Solh and Fawzi el Hoss, all of whom became MPs or PMs at a later point in their careers. Their descendants tell tales, even today, at how important that house was to their fathers.

Louis Armstrong Visited Too:

Louis Armstrong

During his visit to Lebanon in the 1960s, Louis Armstrong, one of they key figures in Jazz music, visited the Red House. He was brought to Lebanon by one of Samira Rebeiz’s sons, Georges Rebeiz, who founded Caviar House and Prunier. That son wanted to introduce Armstrong to the house that built him.

It Survived The Civil War:

The house also made it relatively unscathed through the Lebanese civil war. Its tenants refused to vacate the house for the many militias that demanded it, and through a stroke of luck was left militia-free.

After the end of the civil war, its main tenant Samir Rebeiz, a well known conservationist and restorative architect with an impressive portfolio, who is currently vacating as per a court order, made sure to restore the part in which he lived to the best of his capacities. You can see from many of the pictures at the beginning of this post how relatively well-preserved the house is.

The current tenants even made it a yearly affair to repaint the windows with their characteristic red color, as I was told by Paola Rebeiz, a well-known Beiruti socialite and fashion consultant.

A Rebeiz Family Feud:

Over the past few days, the imminent threat to Hamra’s “Red House” got activists and Beirut’s heritage preservation groups to try and save the house. In their attempt to do so, a potential family feud between the Rebeiz family was unearthed: one between the descendants of Samira and Marie Abdo.

Helene Rebeiz, one of the three people who recently inherited the house after the passing of Marie Abdo’s son Georges, had the following statement:

Helene Rbeiz Red House Beirut Hamra

Samir Rebeiz, who has been living in the house for years, was doing so under Lebanon’s ancient and outdated renting laws, which effectively mean that tenants pay minimal amounts to their landlords and evicting them is near impossible.

When asked about this, Samir Rebeiz refused to make a statement and simply said: “I am leaving this house. I’ve done everything I can to maintain it, and my conscience is clear.”

When I visited, the house was being vacated. Everything Samir owned was being tucked away in boxes, leaving empty rooms and hallways.

The court order requiring Samir Rbeiz to vacate the premises mentioned that the owners wanted to demolish. It is unknown, however, which real estate mogul is interested in the property.

Heritage Trumps Money:

The fate of the house will be decided tomorrow in Lebanon’s Ministry of Culture which will determine whether the house fits the criteria to be considered a national heritage site, protecting it in theory from demolition.

In my opinion, the relevance of a family feud over this house’s fate is not important. We are not interfering in Rbeiz family matters when we give an opinion on the subjective worth of a property at the heart of their feud.

What is constant, regardless of all the other variables, is that this house is a jewel at the heart of Beirut that should be preserved regardless.

It is one of the last remnants of true Lebanese architecture of the area.

It is so preserved that Lebanon’s archeological committee warned against its demolition.

It is a representative of the history of its region and of its country.

It would be such a shame to let all of this go and replace it with yet another concrete block that can bring people millions, but rob them of their identity and heritage.

Beirut is a city that is being maimed every day by the construction robbing it of its flair, of its character, and turning it into yet another one of those plots of lands made up of concrete jungles. This house stands defiant to the progressive and purposeful de-Beirutification of Beirut. Let’s not ruin that too.

Dear Donald Trump, Meet My Very Scary Muslim Friends

Donald Trump does not want Muslims to enter America, at least until he can be sure what those Muslims are planning. You know, all 1.5 billion plus of those Muslims. Yes, all of them must be in on that very scary Muslim plan that they conceived one scary afternoon when no one was looking, as they all huddled together and decided that the only thing they’d want to do in their lifetime is not survive because most Muslims are not really living, not make ends meet, not finish school and find a job and try to better themselves, not to build families and communities, not to just pray 5 times a day to Allah and fast Ramadan and be good people just because they should be.

Nope.

What those Muslims have planned is something much scarier. If only anyone knew what that plan is. So Donald Trump, let us meet my very scary Muslim friends together.

This is Oula, on the far left, with her beautiful family.

Oula

Oula is a 24 year old newly graduated doctor, and a hell of a good one at that. She can handle the best of emergencies efficiently. She can save lives effortlessly, and if it comes down to it, she would also save yours in a heartbeat because that’s the kind of people she is. And look at her celebrating Christmas with her family. Do you think that’s part of the plan, too?

This is Mostapha, with his wife Dima.

Mostapha

Mostapha is also a doctor. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders every single day. He worries  about his friends more than they worry about themselves. Mostapha is not only the most selfless person I know, he would probably define the word selfless in a dictionary. He just returned from giving blood to my grandfather, who happens to be Christian. Do you think that’s part of the plan? Infusing their blood into the unknowing masses?

This is Zaher.

Zaher

Zaher helps run one of my country’s most established and known sweets-factories. He’ll send a few kilos of those absolutely delicious Arabian sweets, poison free I promise. Zaher is a father of two adorable little girls, but his main concern nowadays is that the new Star Wars movie be up to scratch.

This is Hiba.

Hiba

Hiba is a dentist, and also the mother of the most adorable two year old you will meet whose name is Sacha. It’s pronounced Sasha, but written with a C. Don’t ask. Hiba’s friends are from all kinds of kinds. She was raised on tolerance, and like her sister Hala, who is also a doctor, practice tolerance in all that they do. I can’t say the same about you.

This is Ahmad with his wife Anya.

Ahmad

Ahmad is a physiotherapist. And he’d probably done one hell of a good work on his back if you asked him to, or probably not. She’s Romanian, so you probably wouldn’t have a problem with her. His main care in the world is providing for his family, in a country where his profession is a cut-throat competition. But you know nothing about living a tough life now, do you?

These are the Syrian refugees your country is receiving in spite of what you want, and they are all my friends too.

They’ve been to hell and back, not only at the hands of the hellish regime in their country and the terrorist forces pillaging their homes and their lives, but also in the bureaucratic process required for them to be granted entry into your borders. You’d do well read their stories on “Humans of New York” except you’re not human, so you wouldn’t understand.

This is Aylan Kurdi. And he too was my friend.

Aylan Kurdi f

As his body adorned the ruthless shores of Turkey, did your conscience budge in the tiniest bit Mr. Trump? Did you think, just for a second, that this was a human being worth of your sentiment and not of your judgment? Or was he just another Muslim, who was in on that big hellish Muslim plan?

I honestly and from the deepest parts of my heart wish on you, Mr. Trump, never to be subjected to what these people had to go through: I hope you never know what it is to see your loved ones die in front of you. I hope you never know what it is to see your home destroyed as you drive away from it. I hope you never know what it is to be stuck in limbo, not knowing how to move on with your life or what to do. I hope you never have your worth as a human be valued by how much you can contribute to a society. I hope you never have to be labeled as a terrorist until proven otherwise when you are ALWAYS a perpetual victim. I hope you never have to deal with the likes of you.

These are the more than a billion Muslim in the world, Mr. Trump, who live in hellish conditions, whose lives are always contingent upon powers higher up doing whatever they please with their homes simply because they exist on profitable lands, and whose worth as human beings is always dependent on the net price of the oil barrel.

These are the more than a billion Muslim in the world who scare you but are incapable of doing any harm to you, while you get people to hate them, to draw weapons at them for simply existing, for believing that they are worthless.

Except you are not a hater of all Muslims, isn’t that right? Or is it that you only love those rich Muslims who build golf courses in your name and whose name you can use to say that you have “some Muslims who agree with you” akin to those people who have “gay friends” who agree with them that gay marriage is an abomination.

Isn’t that you with Hussain Sajwani, head of Dubai’s DAMAC group?

Trump Damac

Entertain me for a moment, Mr. Trump, and answer this: How is it that you will screen for Muslims entering your beloved country on its path to greatness? Is their a Muslim gene you isolated? Will you get them to recite Quran verses? Where would that place me, a non-Muslim, who knows quite a few of Quran verses? Do you need me to recite them now or would that scare you?

What you’re saying Donald Trump is not scary. Let me call it what it is, because most American journalists are somehow still shying away from using the word with you: it’s disgusting, revolting, bigoted, racist, Nazi-like and inhumane. Is your middle name Adolf? If not, I suggest you change it to that because the last time someone had such a message broadcast in such a way was post WWI in Germany and we all know how that turned out to be.

The scary part, Mr. Trump, is that there are people paying to hear you, itching to shout your name, holding it on signs to proclaim they want their country to be great again.

I doubt that those people rooting for you know what greatness means. It is not to be a racist, which you are. It is not to be a bigot, which you are. It is not to be despicable, which those people are channeling every time they answer a poll proclaiming you as their choice. It is to be wholesome, accepting, tolerant, encompassing of change and of others who are different and who can induce change. Being great is not to be so politically dim-witted as to jump on whichever messages offends people enough to grab headlines, but to know that cause and effect, in politics, do not have a causal relationship.

To the people supporting Donald Trump, I say this: may you never be in need, in full blown despair, not knowing where tomorrow would lead you or how you are going to make it through the night, and then have someone just like you stand and say: you deserve it.

America being great again is not America refusing to be what it has always been: a country of immigrants. A country that is so afraid of what it is cannot simply be, and this is coming from someone who lives in a country that has simply been, despite all odds, and will be, in spite of them.

In a world where you are lumping an entire religion into one basket, you have to be thankful no one is lumping all Americans into yours. People applauding you does not mean what you’re saying is worth anything. It means that in that circle of jokers and jesters, you are the biggest clown.

Stop Blaming & Shaming Lebanese Army Freed Hostages For Thanking Their Captives “Al Nusra”

Lebanon Nusra Army

A few days ago, after more than a year and a half of stagnation, a major breakthrough in the case of Lebanon’s hostages with “Al Nusra” came through, culminating in their release in what can only be described as a shameful and despicable swap that paints this proud nation of ours as powerless, useless and utterly, irrevocably castrated.

It took our government more than a year and a half to get our captives home.
It took our government more than a dozen mediations to even reach a breakthrough.
It took our government to beg for the help of foreign nations – as usual – to make sure its sons returned home.
It took our government giving back terrorists, making sure those terrorists are provided for, for our hostages to come back home.

And we still have nine left with ISIS.

The aforementioned is horrific. In fact, the only good thing about the recent hostage swap is that our heroes have returned, that their families are whole again and that this dark, shameful chapter of the history of this nation can now begin to heal.

Most of us don’t even know their names, but here they are for everyone to know:

  • Nahi Abou Kalfouni,
  • Rayan Salameh,
  • Georges Khoury,
  • Ahmad Abbas,
  • Mohammad Taleb,
  • Georges Khazaka,
  • Pierre Geagea,
  • Ehab El Atrash,
  • Abbas Mshik,
  • Sleiman El Dirani,
  • Lameh Mzahem,
  • Rawad Abou Darhamin,
  • Wael Homs,
  • Maher Fayyad,
  • Maymoun Jaber,
  • Ziad Omar.

We also received back the body of Mohammad Hamieh, who was executed in front of his fellow captives on September 14th, 2014.

The release of Al Nusra’s Lebanese prisoners meant the potential for a bombastic field day for Lebanon’s media outlets, and they made sure to benefit as much as they could: Sixteen men freed from a terrorist group meant a whole lot of interviews and “scoops.’

Part of the media frenzy was a New TV interview with freed captive Georges Khazaka which you can watch in the video below:

The video translates loosely to the following:

Georges: I want to also thank “Al Nusra” for the good treatment they gave us.

Reporter: They treated you well? Someone who kidnaps you treats you well? *in semi-outraged tone.*

Georges: Yes, thank God.

Reporter: We used to say you were under pressure to say such things. Today, there are no more outside pressures on you to thank Al Nusra which is a terrorist organization that kidnapped you.

Georges: A terrorist organization, but they were okay with us. No one beat us, no one verbally assaulted us.

Reporter: But you were kidnaped for 16 months! You broke the heart of your families for 16 months. You thank Al Nusra for that?

Georges: Thank God.

The comments on Facebook are of the same outraged tone that reporter sported while interviewing this man who has been, as she said, held hostage for over 16 months in conditions that – so say the least – are much worse than anything that reporter or any of us has lived through in the past year and a half. Behold an exhibit:

 

You’d think that with the prospect of their release, after more than 16 months of captivity, that there would be some research into what to expect from ANY human being who has been in such conditions for such extended periods of time. You’d think they would know what to ask, how to ask it, how to handle such fragile creatures whose only fault really was to be citizens of a spineless country that couldn’t bring them back until 16 months later.

Yet again, expecting Lebanese media to actually do its job before crucifying people in the public eye is similar to expecting an owl dropping your Hogwarts acceptance letter at your windowsill.

In the mayhem of the freeing of these Lebanese prisoners, no one bothered to look up why these hostages had a sense of gratitude to their captives, and it all boils down to one concept in psychology called the “Stockholm Effect.”

 

The Stockholm Effect was discovered in Sweden in 1973 after captives at bank were held hostage for five days and then found to have developed attachment to their captors, rejecting governmental assistance at a certain point.

It’s a phenomenon in which people taken into captivity express empathy and even sympathy and could have positive feelings towards their captives. The feelings are considered to be irrational, emanating from the victims believing a lack of abuse at the hand of their captors is an act of kindness.

Research has suggested that hostages may exhibit the condition in situations featuring captors that do not abuse the victim, a long duration before resolution, continued contact between the perpetrator and hostage, and a high level of emotion. It affects around 8% of victims of kidnapping.

A prominent example is that of the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847. Shortly after takeoff from Athens, two terrorists stormed the cockpit and demanded the diversion of the flight to Beirut. After capturing the plane, the perpetrators released the women and children. Two sailors and a group of wealthy American businessmen remained on the aircraft, and the captors held them for 10 days.

During the incident, the terrorists threatened the hostages with guns to their heads and in their mouths. They also beat one of the victims to death and dumped his body out of the tail section of the plane.

After the eventual rescue, reporters interviewed the captives as they disembarked. When asked to describe the captors, one hostage stated, “They weren’t bad people; they let me eat, they let me sleep, they gave me my life.”

 

There are certain Lebanese media using Georges Khazaka’s interview to showcase ‘Al Nusra’ in a positive light, in the sense of “oh look, they’re not that bad,” and those media are as bad, if not worse, then those who are outraged at what Mr. Khazaka said.

Al Nusra is a terrorist organization. They took soldiers and policemen hostage for over a year. They beheaded some of them for political and theatrical purposes. They are not human. They are animalistic barbaric entities that, like ISIS, should be annihilated. Period.

As some of you mighty keyboard clicking Goliaths click away at your Facebook, YouTube and Twitter profiles to shame our freed soldiers and policemen because of their statements, none of you had to go through what they went through for the past year and a half.

None of us had to be separated from our loved ones.

None of us had to take each day one step at a time hoping we wouldn’t die the next.

None of us were forced to watch as our colleagues were decapitated in front of us.

None of us had to go through what they’ve been through, and yet here are many of us belittling them.

This can be a political ploy. In the political chess game overtaking the region, these soldiers are mere pawns being manipulated by those who are far higher up. And isn’t the following picture the clearest indication of that?

Lebanon AL Nusra - 13

Our soldiers kneel while higher powers rise above. Isn’t that the truth everywhere?

Before being soldiers, our hostages are people. And they are people who lost everything they knew for more than a year. They’ve been broken, humiliated and decimated.

Before being soldiers, our hostages are people. Understanding that they might be prepared to fight terrorism in Arsal, where they were placed probably because they don’t know someone who knows someone who can assign them to less risky areas, but were not ready to be taken into captivity for more than a year is key.

Before being soldiers, our hostages are people. Wearing a police suit does not mean they are exempt from being human beings who can be hurt, changed and maimed too.

I’m not saying Stockholm Syndrome is a certainty. I’m saying it’s a possibility. Asking our soldiers to move on from their ordeal just because they’re freed is akin to asking a depressed person to snap out of it. We will never get it. We will never know. Whether psychology or politics, everything that we do will remain nothing more or less but speculation.

But when it comes to me, I look at Georges Khazaka and see a man whose humanity comes first and who breaks my heart at him being nothing more than a scarred pawn in a game of nations that is much bigger than him, than me or any of us will ever be.

 

Blocking Downtown Beirut From The People Is Unacceptable; This Is The True #AbouRakhousa

Lebanon wall Downtown Annahar Le Grey #YouStink

The Lebanese Government has no idea what it’s doing. If you thought it had an inkling before, be certain now that it’s essentially an establishment that only functions on reflexes; their latest reflex is blocking Downtown Beirut at its main entrance near Le Grey in order to prevent entry to protests to those streets to which not only should they be allowed access, but to which they have a fundamental right.

A couple of weeks ago, our government build a big concrete wall near Riyad el Solh square to block protests from having a 1% access – even less – to the Grand Serail. The Beirut Wall lasted 24 hours at the time before it was brought down. Every single minister declared that the wall in question was not their doing. Yeah, right. One thing became clear, however, that wall – as irrelevant a barricade as it was – signaled the massive divide between governance and people.

Any political system that wants to self-sustain should not be afraid of its people. It should be from the people, to the people. Our government is squarely against us. They beat us, they humiliate us, they rob us of our fundamental rights and still have the audacity to play victim.

That concrete wall was then replaced by massive barbed wires, which are now adorned will all kinds of slogans berating those hiding themselves behind such barricades, cowering away from the people demanding they be held accountable. But even that slide.

On Sunday, the #YouStink movement held a march with several thousand people all the way to Downtown Beirut, at the gates of Nejmeh Square. The march was to demand access to parliament, to demand fair elections to try and replace the current governing body we have (or so I think). The protestors were met with riot police adamant about not letting them pass. The entrance to Nejmeh Square was barricaded, of course, and it still is until this day.

Our government, however, decided to take this a step further yesterday night and block the entirety of Downtown Beirut from all kinds of people, protestors or not, by erecting concrete blocks at its main entrance, near Annahar – Michelle Tueini should be happy – and Le Grey – Nicolas Chammas would be happy too.

Check out the pictures via Abir Ghattas:

A few days ago, Nicolas Chammas – the head of Beirut’s commerce syndicate – was “worried” that the protests taking place in Downtown Beirut now at the hand of protestors he called were “communists,” because clearly only leftists and communists would have an issue with the current establishment, were turning his beloved Downtown area into a cheap market which he dubbed “Abou Rakhoussa.”

Little does Mr. Chammas know, however, that in its current form Downtown Beirut is not only “abou rakhoussa,” it’s cheaper than cheap. As the Lebanese popular saying goes: “bteswa franc b iyyem l ghala” and no amount of Hermes, Chanel, Aïshti shops and fancy hotels or restaurants can change that.

They wonder why Downtown Beirut is not popular with the Lebanese populace.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the average Lebanese income is nowhere near the one needed for minimum purchase power there? Or that the area was built by raping the property of common Lebanese folk who were not able to challenge the system back then to give them their right?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that there’s a security zone every other meter there, or that there’s someone in it that feels threatened every single waking moment of their life so they feel the necessity to draw endless perimeters around their holy being to stay safe from people who just want to have a good time?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the entire area is not meant for us but for tourists who are not even coming here anymore because they have much nicer places to go to elsewhere?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that cheapness is not a measure of how cheap the area is, but how lifeless, dead, horrifying, without charm and character an area actually is?

Downtown Beirut fits those to the letter.

That new barricade they built at its main entrance to keep us out is a disgrace. They want Downtown Beirut to remain their area, the place where they feel exclusive, the place where they can sit and chastise the average Lebanese about not being “western” enough to care about fancy facades and empty cores, the place where they can make sure the average Lebanese they fear always feels excluded, not-belonging, ostracized and shut out.

Nejmeh square is not a property of our politicians. The Grand Serail area is not a property of our politicians. None of the streets in Downtown are their property, but they sure act like it all the time. Beirut is not their city alone; it’s also ours. They’ve robbed it and claimed it enough.

I’d like to see them running tourist-attracting ads now. Come to Beirut, see our state of the art walls and empty streets. We promise you’ll love it; no Lebanese are allowed here. There’s nothing more disgraceful and despicable than a government that thinks it’s more important than its own people.  You see that barricade they’re building to keep us – the people – out of their exclusive area? It’s not keeping us out, it’s locking them in.

This is the real Abou Rakhousa: an area worth billions, but is being rendered uninhabitable, foreign with total shutting out of anything and everything Lebanese. The area’s worth is not its buildings and empty streets, but the people. Without us, your billion dollar projects are worth nothing.

This is apartheid, Lebanon-style. Someone pass the lexotanil pills to Nicolas Chammas, please.

 

When The FPM Is In Full Blown Despair: Assaad Thebian Did Nothing Wrong

If you had any doubt that the FPM is a politically bankrupt party, now’s the time to be certain of it.

If you had any doubt that their website, Tayyar.org, was worse than the garbage filling our streets, today is the day when this becomes clearer than day.

Today, the FPM is in full blown crisis mode.

The Free Patriotic Oxymoron wants us to vote for a president. But they couldn’t even vote for their own one because their boss was too afraid his lovely son in law wouldn’t be their chosen one.

Today, the Free Patriotic Hypocrisy wants to reform and change the country, but they’ve been in power since 2005 and haven’t done any of that. 24/24 electricity in 2015? Wait while I go fix the generator.

Today, the Free Patriotic Whatever wants you to see how they’re secular, but their only rhetoric is about Christian rights, also known as the biggest load of bullshit of the year.

They want you to think they’re against the government, but they just happen to be part of it. They want you to think they’re against parliament’s mandate extension, but they just happen to have the biggest parliamentary bloc today.

*More orange applause here.*

And today, because the FPM is so scared of the #YouStink movement, because they’ve seen how a non-partisan, secular movement managed to get WAY more people than the 500 they got on their streets in their BIG revolt for Christian rights, they are after one of the organizers of the YouStink movement, Assaad Thebian.

For reference, this is Aoun’s latest excursion:

Aoun Protest

And this is the YouStink protest:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 1

How? By digging up old Facebook statuses of his in which he makes jokes about Christianity.

How? By doing what Aounists do best, look at other people’s “mistakes” while utterly and irrevocably ignoring exactly how demented their ranks have become.

How? By basking in the glories of hypocrisy under the veil of Christianity. Haven’t you heard? Aoun is the next coming of Jesus, y’all!

The following are the Facebook posts that offended the FPM so much:

And because there’s nothing more I’d love to do now than to figuratively bash their rhetoric into oblivion, let’s remind the Lebanese masses exactly how hypocritical, deluded and – forgive them Father for they have sinned – blasphemous they are.

1) #IlsSontCharlieWHeik:

Here is Gebran Bassil pretending that he’s the Foreign Affairs Minister of a First World Country, caring for Freedom of Speech and whatnot at the Charlie Hebdo rally to support the victims of the very horrendous crime that took place in Paris earlier this year:

Assaad Thebian FPM Gebran Bassil Charlie Hebdo

Except clearly freedom of speech is only allowed when it’s not practiced in Lebanon and where pretending we care about it gives our country a good name. All formalities, as you know, because as it is with the FPM words always speak louder than actions.

These are the covers that Gebran Bassil was defending while in Paris, note that they offend both Christianity and Islam, in a way much MUCH worse than Assaad Thebian ever did, but who cares, right?

2) I kneel in front of you, Oh General:

When Gebran Bassil was made president of the FPM, he started his new promotion with a very enticing speech addressing his father-in-law, mentor Michel Aoun. In it he said, and I translate loosely: “Oh general, you leader and mentor and companion, I kneel in front of you along with my compatriots so you could bless us.”

So let me get this, Aoun was giving up on becoming president so he decided to become Jesus? In the name of the Father, His Son in Law, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Yes, that sounds about right.

This wasn’t the first time Aounists turned their leader into God.

3) Aoun in the Heart of Mary:

A few weeks ago, MP Nabil Nicolas, who was the first to rush down to Martyrs’ Square a few weeks ago and support the #YouStink movement, posted a picture on his Facebook account of his leader, Aoun, in the heart of the Virgin Mary. No further comment needed:

Nabil Nicolas Michel Aoun

4) They Tried to Hijack #YouStink, But Then Changed Their Mind:

If you also needed more examples on how hypocritical these FPM leaders are, only look at their attempts to hijack the #YouStink movements under the guise that it’s echoing their demands. Yes, right.

First was this tweet by Gebran Bassil:

Gebran Bassil Tweet August 22 Protest YouStink

Then Nabil Nicolas tried to join the protests. Then minister Elias Abi Saab tried to join the protests as well. The nerve that these people have.

Then Gebran tweeted again:

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 8.34.10 PM

Then they decided the movement was not something they wanted to get involved in. I guess they realized, about a month later, that the movement was against them too.

5) Attacking The Patriarch:

And because we’re digging up stuff from a past long-gone by now, why not dig up something from the FPM’s past? Something like video footage of them attacking the Maronite Patriarch and Bkerki simply because they didn’t agree with Bkerki’s stances?

People in glass houses should not throw stones.

The FPM Doesn’t Just Stink, It Reeks:

Attacking Assaad Thebian is the FPM’s desperate attempt at getting whatever supporters it has left to rally behind the only thing they can use: religion. When your political message fails, when you become so desperate, when you become absolutely dumb-founded by a reality in which you do not matter, you go back to what you know, and the only thing the FPM knows is hate, hypocrisy, and enticing religious tension.

This party’s people saw fitting to scroll down a person’s PERSONAL Facebook page and dig up posts from over a year ago in order to score a few points on a non-partisan and secular movement simply because they felt threatened. Stalkers much?

What’s outrageous here isn’t Assaad Thebian’s personal opinion on religion, which he is 100% entitled to have, on his personal Facebook page, to his friends, but the fact that someone took the effort to make sure and invade his privacy, post these opinions for everyone to see and then have a lawsuit filed against him.

If only I had the financial resources to sue Nabil Nicolas or Gebran Bassil for blasphemy.

Christianity By Name, Never By Action:

This new breed of Christians, as exemplified by those outraged by Assaad Thebian’s Facebook statuses, are exactly what is wrong with Christianity today. They are those people who proclaim to be Christian just for the fun of it, but when it comes to practice, they are as far from it as it can be. Christianity is not only an ID categorization, but a way of life. Don’t tell them I told you this, though.

In between the “bedde nik kess emmo la Assaad Thebian” comments (what did his mother every do to you?), and the various responses that don’t only verge on hate, but fall precariously into the sectarian trash talk that the FPM has long been practicing, this is “Christianity” exemplified:

What would Jesus do? He’d slap them across the face, that’s what he’d do.

The Difference Between Us And You:

And here lies the biggest difference between us, those supporting the #YouStink movement in all our forms and colors and religious affiliation or lack thereof, and you. We do not follow a leader, we follow a cause. We are not protesting for someone. We are protesting because this country needs us to protest, because it is our national duty to stand up to the shit that your leader and his friends have gotten us into over the past 10 years.

Assaad Thebian is not a figure that defines the #YouStink movement, he is a figure of the movement. He is entitled to his opinion, and I will defend his right to that opinion in the face of hypocrites and anyone who thinks he should not have an opinion that trespasses on their belief system.

You? Well, you are people who are called after a person’s last name. You are people who are now wondering if your name should be changed to your new leader’s last name. You are followers not to a cause, but to a figure. You move the way that figure sways. You don’t have an ideology, you have a new god to worship.

Between us an you, the only people committing blasphemy are you.

When Beirut Was At Its Most Beautiful In Years

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 1

Beirut is its most beautiful when it’s alive. Over the past few years, it hasn’t been that way. No, parties at Skybar (RIP) don’t count.

Beirut is not beautiful when it’s a strange land to its people. It’s not beautiful when its center is always empty, when its heart is devoid of its people, when it’s forcibly maimed beyond recognition. No, Beirut is not beautiful when it doesn’t have us, when it’s full of flags that are not of the country which it represents.

On August 29th, 2015, Beirut not only had us, but it had enough of us to make it the most beautiful it’s been in years. Yesterday evening, Beirut was gorgeous. It was our own city finding its voice again, finding its calling again, finding its own identity again.

Beirut is nothing without its streets that should be filled with people. Yesterday, we filled its heart. Beirut is nothing without a beating center. Yesterday, Martyrs’ Square was beating in tachycardia. Beirut is nothing without us. Yesterday, we were Beirut.

Over 100,000 people gathered yesterday in Martyrs’ Square to say enough is enough. They chanted against the system. They chanted for their rights. They chanted with every ounce of voice they had in them for the causes they believed in.

This is how beautiful Beirut was:

 

And people had their hands intertwined to signal unity:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 25

The people also brought posters.

Some, like my friend Racha’s poster, were hilarious:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 10

She’s going to kill me for this going viral.

Youssef Nassar, inspired by Elissa’s now famous Twitter gaffe, brought out the big guns:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 21

#Best #Concert #Ever! #With #My #Besties.

My friend Izzie, meanwhile, compared our ruling class to her dog, “Funny.” Obviously, they wouldn’t amount to how adorable her puppy is:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 14

Pop culture also made an appearance in the form of “Game of Thrones.” What do our politicians have in common with Jon Snow? You guessed it:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 7

That wasn’t the only Game of Thrones-inspired poster around:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 24

Pop culture made another appearance in the form of a “Fifty Shades” pun:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 4

The whole “I kneel in front of you oh General” line that Bassil delivered recently now has an entirely different meaning.

And since we’re a very competitive country, our politicians had their report card released. Needless to say, it’s not very flattering:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 8

Because this protest was a BIG deal, Myriam Klink made an appearance:

By Ralph Aoun.

By Ralph Aoun.

But Klink will probably NOT approve of the content of this poster, zico zico and all:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 16

And because no protest in this country happens without foreign approval, this protest was under the auspices of North Korea. Thank you Pyong Yang!

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 9

Some people brought figurative coffins with them to bury the system that has been killing us for years:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 12

Some made jokes about our security forces:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 20

Some were not as polite:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 6

But at least they have good calligraphy.

This time around, Berri got a few jabs:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 13

Others, and this is the poster that resonated with me the most, wanted to remind everyone of how much we’ve lost being submissive to this system for the past several years, and how many innocent lives paid the price. May all the children of Tripoli rest in peace:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 5

 

And here are a few more:

All of this happened to the backdrop of the most ironic poster of them all:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 9

Beirut is its most beautiful when its people are this free, when they are this creative and when they finally find their voice that has been forcibly silenced for years, at times when we thought such a thing wouldn’t happen.

Yesterday’s protest was the BIGGEST manifestation of secular, non-partisan but very politically driven individuals in the history of the country. If August 29th leads to results in the coming few days, this protest will go down in history as another form of Beirut Spring, in the heart of a country that has long shown democracy to the region.

This post is not about what should have happened, what should happen next and what is expected of this movement. This is about how beautiful and glorious our sight was, and how beautiful we made Beirut in the process.

Cheers to everyone who made Beirut great again. Cheers to those who sang, and chanted and shouted. Cheers to hopefully saying one day: “I was there.” Cheers to us.