My name is Elie Fares. I will soon be 23 years old. I am a Lebanese citizen. I also happen to be born into a Maronite family. My registry number is 44. I vote in Ebrine, in the Batroun Caza.
I remember prior to 2005 when a friend asked me in class: “enta 3awne aw ouwwatje?”
I looked at him blankly. Both those words were foreign to me. I didn’t know what “3awne” or “ouwwatje” meant. So I just shrugged and said neither. Why didn’t I know what “3awne” or “ouwwatje” meant? Because we never discussed such things in my household. The only thing that got transiently mentioned among my parents was the need for the Syrian army to leave from my hometown back then. And that was my only political truth back then. Get the Syrians out of my country.
Up until 2005, I never believed in anything political. I never thought I’d be interested in politics. I remember getting the news of February 14th while my school bus drove me home. I looked at the driver worryingly: what would this mean to my country?
I didn’t like Rafic Hariri. He had been with the Syrians for way too long. But I had come to appreciate him switching sides over the past previous months and the hope I saw in my parents’ faces as they spoke about voting for the “opposition” in the upcoming elections, hoping to change things.
I watched the news like every other Lebanese. I saw hundreds of thousands go down to Hariri’s funeral. I saw the youth of Lebanon run to the streets every week. I saw the army trying to stop them from gathering. I saw people sit down in Martyr’s Square to fight for a freedom my country longed for. I saw more than a million Lebanese fill the streets of Beirut on March 14th 2005. I felt my heart fill with joy as I hugged two of my friends who happened to be of opposite political affiliations (one is ouwwatje, the other is 3awne). I felt on top of the world. I felt like I could change things. I felt empowered. I felt proud to be Lebanese – and nothing, to me back then, could change that.
The following day in an Arabic class at school we started discussing what happened with our teacher. My entire class had gone down to the protest. One of the two friends I hugged told the professor that the country seems to be heading in the right direction for the first time in a long time. Everyone was united in one cause – there was a “minority” which didn’t agree.
Our teacher said similar sentiments had surfaced before in the public but were short-living. My friend shrugged his words off. My teacher was right. The 2005 elections rolled around and I found myself taking sides. I decided then to become a supporter of the “ouwwet.” My friend was “3awne.” My parents, like so many other Christians that year, voted for Aoun. I had never seen my mom that resilient about voting for someone except perhaps when she voted the opposite way in 2009. I actually feel proud of that moment too – the fact that I came into my own political opinion independently of my parents, even opposing them. Therefore, I feel offended whenever someone infers that my political opinion was instilled in me by my parents due to excessive repetition.
The people, though, were not united anymore. My friends and I became on opposite sides. And years started passing as the divide grew bigger. The July 2006 war happened and we took sides then. Following the July 2006 war, March 8 set camp in downtown and I looked upon them in disgust. They were the “bajam” hurting our economy, damaging our reputation, working against the country I wanted to build. Their sit-in lasted two years during which my hate towards them grew. And my friends stopped talking to each other. But March 14th fought onwards, or so I thought, until a few months into 2008, the country’s real crisis began.
The May 2008 events happened and we also took sides. I was an AUB student who was forced to stop going to class for two weeks. I remember braving the protests on their very first day and going to classes, which were supposedly going to be held. My chemistry class had eight people. Our Jordanian teacher gave us a lecture about the importance of our country. That lecture was probably the most memorable one in my entire three years at AUB.
Starting with 2005, politicians got assassinated and innocent people got killed and we took sides. And with each March 14 politician dying, my resolve to support them grew stronger. How could anyone not see that they were the only ones being targeted? How could anyone not see exactly how wrong it was to support those “others” who were not suffering because of their love for the country?
The 2009 elections rolled by I had so many quarrels with family members because they wanted to vote for “the others.” I had heated debates with elderly people who reverted to civil war times in their talk, telling me I was “too young” to understand. But we won and I felt happy. I felt like we could now, possibly, take the country forward.
But then it started going down hill. Forming the government took such a long time. But I blamed Bassil and his father in law for not seeing the disgrace of his son in law’s loss in my region. The government eventually got formed but it wasn’t effectively ruling. It was all color by number – let us get the wheels of the country to move as smoothly as possible without damaging the very fragile equilibrium of sects that we so proudly paraded around to show our diversity as a nation. I started blaming Hezbollah for being armed and for not letting us rule. I blamed Aoun for spinning faster than a weather vane. I blamed Aounists for being so hateful to Geagea that they couldn’t see the many problems in their leader of choice.
And I saw March 14th start to go downhill but I still had hope that one day things might change again. I saw them make mistakes but I always deflected the criticism that March 8 people ran at me with: “Shut up, you’ve done much worse.” And to me, that was the absolute truth. They were ones to talk – ruining my country with their love for Iran and Syria, two countries that I despised.
So on March 13th 2011, I braved the cold of the snowstorm that had just subsided and figured it was divine intervention that the weather was that good when it was snowing the day before and I went down to Downtown Beirut to protest my right as a citizen to live. I went down in hope that being present there would reinvigorate the political movement I staunchly supported. I went in hope that being there would get the politicians I supported to man up and know that they have people who support them and who want them to take back the country from those who stole it by the force of their black shirts. I went down and felt proud doing so. But it was all in vain.
Nothing changed after that. The country only went further downhill. I continued believing that March 14th was the lesser of the two evils, the less hypocritical bunch out of the two, the saner one. But as I saw radical Islamists become part of their base supporters, I began to wonder where was the youth that was the heart of March 14? Was it replaced by bearded men who were enabled by some of March 14th’s politicians to enact out agendas that they were too cowardly to do?
I saw those politicians start leaving the country one by one, fearing for their lives. And I was here, struggling through everyday life because I did not matter. I was nothing more than an irrelevant individual compared to them. I still am. But I still convinced myself that it wasn’t all too bad. Our current problems were all to be blamed on the one-sided government that was making our lives hell with its inaptitude. I wasn’t getting neither electricity nor water in the heart of a capital that was losing its identity to foreigners who only visited it a few months per year. I was reaching the realization that my prospects in the country were as limited as they can get. I got to the realization that Lebanon is not the country I wanted to live in. I was broken.
I went to France. I saw how it is for people to truly live without worrying about the meaningless things that cause anxiety in us in Lebanon. I lived the life that I could have been living if my country hadn’t been such a mess, if my politicians truly cared about making my country better, if my country hadn’t been in the fancy geographical location we always brag about, if my country hadn’t been this chaotic mix of segregated people who had absolutely nothing in common among them except the ID card that they believe ties them together.
But I carried on with life because that’s what you do. I went to classes, working to leave one day to a place that would appreciate what I had to offer. And then Wissam Al Hassan got assassinated.
March 14th immediate reaction was to call for the government to collapse and to blame the prime minister. And I started wondering what good would that do. March 14th called on people to start going to Martyr’s Square to protest. They had no plan except to get the people there. I expressed my concern with the matter only to have their followers barrage me about living in high towers, behind a computer, blogging, while the country burned. I was used to getting criticism from both parts of the spectrum as I criticized parties in both (yes, even though I am politically affiliated, I still managed to criticize my party.) March 14th then called on their supporters to come down to Downtown Beirut in order to turn the funeral of Wissam Al Hassan into a national event for their rejuvenation. I refused to go. They had no plan. They didn’t know what they were doing except to get the people worked up. They only wanted Mikati to resign. They couldn’t answer the simple three-word question: And after that?
The funeral was supposedly a Lebanese matter. Few were the Lebanese flags there. There were Brazilian flags, some from Bangladesh and others from Uzbekistan. I failed to see the relevance. But the majority of flags there were of the Syrian revolution. The only thing Lebanese about the funeral were the people and the location. Its heart was entirely not there. The heart of it was not the man who was about to be buried.
As I watched the funeral on TV and saw Wissam Al Hassan’s boys weep their father, I felt sorry for what they were going through. What should have been a personal matter to them became a national event. What should have been Al Hassan’s family taking their time with what remained of their father became a televised event as politicians worked the crowds that were beyond angry. Then those people that were supposedly attending a funeral decided to turn Downtown Beirut into mayhem as some irrelevant journalist became relevant when he was given a loud voice.
I looked as people from the party I supported attacked barricades and fought to get to the Grand Serail. In order to do what? I had no idea. I looked in disgust as the funeral of a respectable man suddenly became a national circus. I looked in disgust as the politicians of March 14th turned the last memory of a man whom they were milking politically into what I was seeing in front of me. Then their supporters started using the same rhetoric that I had used before to justify what was happening. And those excuses didn’t work with my conscience anymore. It doesn’t mean we should do the heinous stuff that took place just because they excel at them. This is not how you build anything, let alone a country.
There was no justification for what happened. March 8 have done worse is not a justification – but I still refuse to see a March 8 person criticize what happened. They’re ones to talk.
March 14th became a hypocritical movement. It became a movement that I didn’t want to be associated with. It’s no longer a movement that wants to build a country. It’s no longer a movement I feel as comfortable voting for as I did a couple of days ago. It’s no longer a movement of youth that make me feel proud, it’s that of youth that make me feel nauseous. It’s no longer a movement of people who got to believe in it on their own accord, but that of people who either grew up hearing their parents ramble on about it or people who support it out of pure sectarian principles. It’s no longer a movement that can drive Lebanon out of its stillbirth. It’s no longer a movement that can make Lebanon a free country by design as opposed to the free result of a lucky break in a neighboring country. March 14th is no longer there. It is a shell of what it used to be. The dream of it is dead. March 14th is dead. And this is its obituary.