Downtown Beirut, home of the city’s flashiest and most expensive, the place housing essentially all forms of worthwhile Lebanese governance, which also happens to be the heart of the Lebanese capital, is a Lebanese non-grata region: we are not allowed entry to the area’s most important area, Nejmeh Square.
Even prior to the YouStink protests, the area had been a nuisance to enter: you had to be interrogated by army personnel, get your IDs checked out and sometimes even searched before they let you through the barricades. And people wonder sometimes why some parts of Downtown Beirut are empty.
Soon enough, entering Nejmeh Square was no longer a procedure, but an impossibility. The clocked-square housing our country’s parliament became off limits when the people giving that same parliament every ounce of legitimacy it has, or doesn’t, were forbidden from entering. Why? Because we posed a threat to a building that is, for the better part of any given week, month or year, without any official or parliament member not doing their job in its halls.
And yet, the security concern does not apply to everyone it seems because foreigners, regardless of their nationality, only need to flash their better-than-ours passports to enter and enjoy the sight of heartless emptiness behind the barricades, in the heart of Beirut.
Earlier today, a Facebook post circulated, by a man from Tripoli called Rashed Merhabi who was visiting Downtown Beirut when he decided to try his luck and enter Nejmeh Square.
I spoke to Rashed extensively to get the whole story, and here’s how it went down:
Rashed approached the security personnel manning the barricades on the main entrance to Nejmeh Square and he was denied entry, being told that “a decision had been taken to make the public square non-public.” When Rashed insisted that it was his right as a Lebanese to enter the place especially given that there was no parliament meeting taking place, he was rebuffed once more.
So he carefully made his way to the other side of the square where he was told that entry is only possible at the main entrance, which is basically the place he had just come from. So he returned there where that same security officer told him: “What part of you are not allowed entry don’t you get?”
It was then that same security officer allowed two foreigners entry while a family of four from the UAE were leaving. When Rashed asked for an explanation to what he had just seen, the security officer replied: “Yes, foreigners are allowed entry but you’re not. Now get the hell out of here.”
Rashed then tried to reason with the security officer who decided to use the following glowing argument: “Do I have the right to enter your house whenever I please?” Upon being told that his argument didn’t make sense and that they wanted to go to the Starbucks beyond the barricade, they were told: “Those running this particular Starbucks told us not to allow anyone except the ten Starbucks employees entry.”
Seeing that Rashed and his friend weren’t going away easily, another security officer in civilian clothes joins in and says: “we are Parliament security and we’ve taken over this Square. Only foreigners are allowed, now leave.”
The following day, Rashed tried to call Beirut’s Municipality which told him he had to take up his issue with Parliament which then transferred him to the ISF, which ended up being a dead end.
So yes my fellow Lebanese, not only is our nationality detrimental to our potential in any place around the world, but it’s also a hurdle coming in our way in the middle of the place we are forced to call home. Live love Lebanon indeed.
This saga isn’t exclusive to Nejmeh Square. Almost every single orifice in Downtown Beirut that might lead in one way or another to a governmental building, big or small, is blocked off from every single Lebanese that might wander there.
Remember the Roman Baths we used to take tourists to once upon a time? Blocked. Remember the Wadi Bou Jamil area where Beirut and Lebanon’s only synagogue is present? Blocked.
Every single one of us is a subclass citizens in our own country, at the mercy of politicians who think of us as nothing more than bugs infesting “their” spaces, encroaching on the things they hold dear, as we face their henchmen who marvel in the power they are bestowed by the fact that they wear a uniform.
I wonder what kind of government has the audacity to forbid its own people from accessing their own city. It’s the kind of government that is too terrified for its own existence that it becomes paranoid from the reason it should exist in the first place. And they call themselves as servants of the people.