Lebanon Protests: The Need For Change Doesn’t End With Hariri Resigning

Via Art Of Thawra

It took 13 days of the entire country being paralyzed for Lebanon’s politician to budge. In a statement in which he decried that “no one is above their country,” Saad Hariri – our now (former?) prime minister issued his resignation.

His resignation comes today to the background of plenty of Hezbollah and Amal thugs storming the downtown Beirut area, beating up protesters, women, reports, breaking down equipment, and the tents those protesters were using to demand basic human rights.

If anything, Hariri’s resignation can’t be more timely: he is resigning from leading a country he was not able to govern, as exemplified by our own security forces standing helpless as those goons came down on peaceful protests, bolstered by their impenetrable political shield.

But let’s not forget that this isn’t just about Hariri, or Bassil, or Aoun, or Berri, or any other politician who hasn’t been at the forefront of the protest chants. Kellon ye3ne Kellon means that Hariri’s resignation should be one of many, and it should be a wake up call for us that building the country we deserve doesn’t stop when someone resigns.

In 2005, the massive protests after the assassination of Rafic Hariri led to the resignation of the prime minister. A lot of people were satisfied with that development, and it was surely triumphant. But as the subsequent decade has shown us, it was not enough.

Hariri resigning is not enough.

Our politicians are symptoms of a syndrome. This syndrome is the sectarian rule of law that has enabled them to persist as parasites, leeching off the people from whom they’ve sucked all the will to survive.

It is not a surprise that, nowadays, criticizing Hariri – to many – feels as if you’re criticizing Sunnis. It is not a surprise that many think criticizing Hezbollah and Amal is akin to criticizing the foundation of Lebanese Shiism. It not a surprise that criticizing Aoun or Bassil or Geagea feels to a lot of people as if you’re attacking Lebanese Christianity.

This is because those politicians have been able to use our sectarian divides as walls that they’ve erected around their halos, in order to perpetuate the illusion of their sanctity, in order to let us think they are untouchable.

The mere notion of some politicians being red lines that should not be crossed in this country, or in any democracy, is a no-go. They should all be open for criticism, impeachment and – most importantly – removal from office.

But that will never happen if we continue to prioritize sect over country. If me, a Lebanese Maronite, will forever be clinging to my Maronitism as the scope with which I view my citizenry, then Lebanon will never be able to become a country that can inhabit all of its people. The same thing applies for people of other sects.

This means that moving forward, Hariri’s resignation is not enough to instill the change we need. Gebran Bassil becoming a “former” minister is not enough, despite how catchy his chants can be. Moving forward, cute chants of “mabsoutaaa3” are not enough to move this country forward.

What we need is a drastic overhaul of the Lebanese system that enables its citizens to be equal in the eye of a common law, not by the law of their respective sects. What we need is a for an electoral law that is not tailored to our current politicians or people who are like them, to enable different faces with the same bullshit to be brought back to office.

What we need is to start concrete steps towards the de-sectarianization of this country so that – in 10, 20 or 30 years from now – we can get to a place where a Lebanese citizen would not introduce themselves by how they pray.

Until then, I congratulate all of the protestors on this first much-needed ounce of change, and hopefully it is the bellwether of more change to come.

Lebanon Protests: It’s Too Late To Believe Any of These Politicians’ Promises

(Picture via Anis Tabet).

Nata2 badri, as my mom would say.

72 hours have come and gone. Aoun, Berri and Hariri have finally come out of their weekend long slumber to unveil their country saving plan… and they think we’re actually going to believe them this time.

The plan that Hariri unveiled today is offensive to every single Lebanese who had to suffer through their corruption for years. This so-called plan is an insult to the intelligence of the millions who have been starved over the years, and who were protesting in the streets over the last 4 days.

It’s ridiculous that it took millions of us protesting across the world for them to *finally* succumb and cut down on their salaries, on their benefits, on long standing black holes that siphoned public funds into their pockets.

What Hariri and the rest of Lebanon’s ruling class believe is that they can continue to fool people with the same empty promises they’ve given for years. If it was *this* easy for them to enact these changes, why hadn’t they enacted them months ago when they were scrambling to come up with a budget for a country that functioned without one for decades?

It’s because they’ve taken our silence for granted. It’s because they assumed they can do whatever they wanted to this people and get away with it. But that stops now.

No Mr. Hariri, your empty promises don’t fly here. Just look at workers at Future TV and Saudi Ogeh were promised for years, none of which was ever fulfilled.

No, these empty reforms don’t address the root of the problem which is that these same politicians who have failed to reform anything for decades cannot suddenly see the light and decide to enact much needed change.

No, switching one way for these politicians to steal money to programs called Elinor and Elissar is not reform. This is just another name for theft.

It’s too little too late for empty statements masquerading under the guise of change to be effective. We should be better than to believe such empty words.

I really hope that years of lies are enough to have us believe that more lies can never be truths.

Stay tuned, Lebanon. The revolution continues.

The Weekend When Tripoli Was The Icon of Lebanon’s Protests

I’ve been writing about Tripoli so frequently on this blog, not only because I loved that city, but because the preconceptions that many Lebanese had of it – mostly out of biased media whose job was to alienate fellow Lebanese from the Northern capital.

Those preconceptions varied from “tripoli is where ISIS is” to “there’s nothing to do there anyway.” Many Lebanese that I know have started their third decade of life without having visited the city.

As Lebanon ends its third consecutive day of massive protests, the like of which the country has never seen, one thing is abundantly clear, regardless of what amounts from the revolution: Tripoli has finally gotten its chance to show its true color to everyone, and it did so out of the sheer will of its own people.

From its world famous Fayha Choir singing a cappella, to Marcel Khalifeh going to this city to sing at a protest, to them turning the infamous “se7et l nour” to not one, but TWO full blown raves, to thousands of them singing the national anthem at the top of their lungs, to their world famous sweets maker Hallab giving away 10,000 knefes, to its people baking manakeesh for the protesters for free. Tripoli was the highlight of Lebanon’s protests as it tore down stereotype after stereotype that was thrown at it for years.

Each of those moments was so fantastic to behold there isn’t a person I know who wasn’t taken aback by them. But I was not surprised, nor were the people who knew what this city was capable of.

Think about how gigantic a step it is for a DJ to be blasting techno music from a rooftop into a square that has been associated with Islamists for years, as thousands of people bopped their heads and threw their hands up for life.

Think about how enormous of a step it is for this city who has been taken for granted by the countless politicians that have claimed it to tell every single one of them to fuck off.

This northern city is representative of the Lebanese spirit like nothing else. It’s been brought down so many times. It hasn’t even been a decade since it had a war that few outside of the North cared about. It suffered through years and years of harmful propaganda – sometime by the same media of current ruling parties… and still it rises.

From the middle of New York, to all those in Tripoli who showed the city in the best light possible, you’re all amazing. Thank you.

Lebanon Burned. And Now It May Rise

My heart broke two days ago when I saw my home country burn, quite literally, in front of our eyes. As firefighters and regular people alike risked their lives to save our forests and homes from turning to ashes, it seemed fitting that a country whose course was scorching earth culminated that way.

The fire was literal and figurative. The trees burned, but so did people’s savings. The shrubs erupted, but so did people’s patience. Homes burned, and so did the fragile foundation on which the semblance of the Lebanese state remained.

As the government botched yet another aspect of its job towards its citizens, as people died trying to save each other from the fire while our politicians watched, it felt like we were turning into the ashes from which the Phoenix that this country has been likened to can finally be reborn.

They raised taxes. We took it in.

They didn’t collect garbage. We took it in.

They didn’t provide security and didn’t protect our currency. We took it in.

They didn’t provide for our children and elderly. They broke our social fabric. We took it in.

They cultivated divide and hatred. We swallowed it in.

They turned us into expats. They killed us. We took it in.

And then we rise.

You can call it the WhatsApp revolution. You can call it what you want to. But whatever the name may be, what is happening across Lebanon today is exactly why a part of me will love that country.

It’s that moment where enough became enough. When the raised taxes, the higher fuel prices, the lack of electricity and water and decent internet, the lack of security, the depreciation of citizenry all culminated in what may be lebanon – finally – rising.

It’s that split second in which thousands of my people can gather on the streets to cry for their rights.

It’s that kick that that feisty Lebanese woman can deliver to an armed officer threatening her.

It’s that middle finger that a protester gives to a politician who has taken his support for granted.

It’s that anger at years during which those very politicians have turned living in Lebanon into an actual hell.

It’s the years in which they failed to provide what constitutes the essentials of basic human decency.

It’s that Sunni in tripoli who is finally tired of Hariri.

It’s that Shia in Nabatieh who tore down the picture of Nabih Berri. It’s that Christian in Mount Lebanon who finally told Gebran Bassil to shove it.

Those chants in the streets, the party flags torn up, the politician pictures burned down could all point to a new dawn for a country who has been needing daylight for so long.

Yes I am wary. I had hope when I still lived in Lebanon and we protested the garbage crisis. I had hope even before then when I was a teenager and part of the millions who took it to martyr’s square on March 14th. But my Lebanese experience has trained me not to get my hopes up sometimes. Yet this time seems different.

There’s another air to how the protests are. This is the first time we’ve seen this level of anger and angst, perpetuating across the political and sectarian spectrum, uniting people I’d never thought could be united.

This is the first time their attempts at attacking the validity of the protests has completely failed, and conversely fueled their legitimacy.

Today, I have hope for my country. I’ve never had this much hope since I was 15 years old, on March 14th. I have hope that finally Lebanon may rise, and become the country we deserve to have.

To all of those in the streets fighting for everyone’s rights, you are heroes. Thank you for the good fight, we are humbled by your bravery.

Lebanon Slipping To The Dark Ages: Charbel Khalil Wants To Start a Gay Conversion Therapy Group In The Name of St. Charbel

With each passing day, news transpiring out of Lebanon get more and more disheartening as the latest seems to be a wannabe “comedian” deciding it’s time for him to start a “conversion therapy group” for gay people in the country.

The comedian in question is Charbel Khalil. I forget when the last time this man dabbled with relevance, but he wants to be in the spotlight again as he launches hocus pocus, unethical and unscientific torture methods under the guise of his namesake saint.

In a series of tweets, Khalil announced his intention to quick start the “St. Charbel Project” to “help” gay men and women to get rid of their gayness. As he got criticized, he then amplified his homophobia by blocking anyone who opposed his message, calling them pejorative words and doubling down on his message. You can find his tweets here:

Charbel Khalil’s feeble attempt at relevance is something that has been deemed by scientists as inhumane, barbaric and obviously useless. The mere fact that, in 2019, something like this could be allowed or even started when any respectable scientific body has stopped recognizing homosexuality as a disease for around a lifetime, is horrifying.

It’s another step in that downward spiral of a country that is fast circling the drain in all the ways that matter.

You see, what Charbel Khalil is proposing is a violation of basic human rights. People will applaud him, because at a time when a lyric can upset millions, basic decency does not even register.

What Charbel Khalil wants to do is an affront to anything that is scientific and logical. But that’s not the kind of thinking people like him and those who like him dabble in. They’re probably the same kind of people who think global warming is a myth as their face melts off in the July heat.

And let’s not even forget that what Charbel Khalil wants to do is an insult to the saint whose name he’s plastering on his crime.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a laughing matter. I pity the LGBT people who will fall victim to this man’s actions because they live in a country that has permeated the notion that their sexuality and their being cannot coexist. Live and let live does not run in Lebanon circa 2019, looking more like 1472. How could they when they want to police how you pray, what you watch and listen to, and now how they think they can control your body’s urge to love?

I pity the children of these many figures who may one day end up gay, only to face the insurmountable rejection that is their own family denying them a safe space, in a Country that is anything but.

Today, what those tweets constitute is another nail in the coffin of the hopes of a modern Lebanese state. From attempts to ban Mashrou Leila, to now kick-starting a practice being banned everywhere in the modern world, how low do we want to sink?

From a failed economy, to a failed state, to failed freedoms and now to failed basic human decency, I wonder where Lebanon’s rock bottom will be?

From Mashrou3 Leila To Our Freedoms: Religious Censorship in Lebanon Is Killing The Country

Picture this, a song released over 3 years ago is suddenly noticed by the collective praying masses, and crucifixes are drawn. Picture this, a meme posted on a Facebook page lands you in court. It’s not a meme you even did.

This is what is happening with Mashrou3 Leila, the top Lebanese band that has been the prime representation of Lebanese indie music all around the world. They’ve been on world tours, selling out arenas across the world. Their latest highlight was a show at the prestigious Olympia in Paris, where people like Fairuz have performed before.

Except now, ahead of their August 9th concert, Mashrou3 Leila are not welcome in their own home country, on the very same stage of the Byblos Festival that helped propel their career forward around a decade ago.

I know I haven’t blogged in a while. But this is something that I felt is important enough for me to resurrect this space in order to shout, to whoever would listen or read, that this persecution of Mashrou3 Leila, in the overall bigger picture of our freedoms in this country being killed off on the daily, is a precedence we should not stay silent to.

The song in question, Djin, from their last-released LP, Ibn El Leil, references a baptism with gin in the name of the father and the son. That’s it. The meme in question was posted on Hamed Sinno’s personal facebook page was that of an icon in which the face of the Virgin Mary was replaced with singer Madonna. Hamed Sinno did not make that meme. He is not the first human on the face of this planet to make memes out of religious iconography, but for the Maronite archdioceses as well as Christian political parties, he might as well have been the first ever visionary.

It is to the background of a song and that meme that calls for bans of the band started up, and like an avalanche they kept rolling, with support from certain media figures and politicians. Even the Maronite Archdiocese of Jbeil had to weigh in with a statement of condemnation.

I believe the Christians’ problem with Mashrou3 Leila is not just about a song or a meme, which they want you to believe. It is inherently about the values that that band and its members represent. Hamed Sinno is the first openly gay artist of the entire Middle East. The band has been a forefront in LBGTQ representation in the region, and a view into the lives of Arab queer artists to the world. Their songs have been a representation of a Lebanese current that is not beholden to Christian or Muslim establishments. They represent a youth that is atheist, loud, proud, and trying to change a status quo that religious authorities are not comfortable with.

There, herein, lies the main problem. It is the threat that a band like Mashrou3 Leila poses to religious hegemony in the country that is so frightening to them, so they call to ban it. It’s in the same vein of a show being banned because a Muslim clerk decided it mis-represented the prophet. It’s in the same vein of the calls for bans that rise up every now and then for political reasons in the country. Haven’t you ever wondered why they keep happening often, and why we are hearing about these bans more and more these days?

I wonder, if Lebanese Christians are SO offended by a song or a meme, what would they do, for instance, if they are exposed collectively to a show like The Handmaid’s Tale, a post-apocalyptic Christian theocracy, where those same beliefs they hold so dear are challenged in the form of gross misinterpretation that turns anyone who is not male and white into a third class subordinate, where women are raped in the name of God and procreation, and where their fingers are cut off if they even read?

The even more baffling entity among all this is the sheer silliness and hypocrisy. I remember during the 2009 elections, one of the FPM’s main politicians posted a picture to Facebook with an icon of the Virgin Mary and in her heart, instead of Jesus, was Michel Aoun. Both iconographied-memes are in the same vein. Except one of the two will never face repercussions for his actions.

The amount of silliness does not stop here. The following is an actual post, by a priest, who decides that Leila in Mashrou3 Leila, in reference for night, is a satanic reference. He even uses a book he wrote as a reference. Of course, homosexuality is also ridiculed in the priest’s post, further reinforcing the point that the band’s queerness is under prosecution here too:

Even Carla Haddad, your favorite weather girl, decided to weigh in:

And – because this is the go-to insult for everyone these days – the band was even accused of being a Zionist propaganda machine, even though their latest song and video are clear condemnation of Israeli occupation of Palestine:

All of this is happening to the background of actual physical threats facing the band, and those who decide to attend the concert.

I think the culmination of it all was when Mashrou3 Leila were dragged to court because of a lawsuit filed against them for “offending religions.” While the judge dismissed the suit, she did not do so because it is Mashrou3 Leila’s right to sing whatever they want, or because the lawsuit itself was so silly. She did it under the condition of the band members meeting with priests, sheikhs, political officials from the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, for them to issue an apology and to stop performing their “offensive” songs.

Today, the song Djin is no longer on Mashrou3 Leila’s official YouTube station. Of course, you can still find it online if you need to. After all, it is still 2019 even if some Lebanese mindsets are stuck in 1345.

But it is the precedence of this judge deciding that a band better be trialed in the court of public opinion that is harrowing. Our laws are not even made to protect us, our freedoms, and our voices. Instead, the judge allowed four young men whose talents have shone across continents, to be scrutinized by religious bearded men of the cloak whose boundaries have not extended beyond the 09 region, and by political figures whose names are not even relevant. Why? For the sake of sensibilities that are all too sensitive.

You see, at the end of the day, it’s all quite simple. If your religion and belief cannot withstand something as trivial as a song, a meme, or a pop culture moment, then that says more about your beliefs and faith than about what you’re offended of.

I salute those very few priests who know that, once upon a time, Jesus said to turn the left cheek to that who hits your right. I salute those religious people who know that their Christianity is not offended by a lyric or a meme. I salute those who know that the true act of freedom is to voice a counter opinion, not to silence those you disagree with.

Irreverence is a sign of modernity. With every ban, every example of the Lebanese state failing us, every call for censorship just because someone is upset, I am convinced day in and day out that the country I left years ago is in full blown reverse gear and heading backwards, as far from modernity, as possible. Our country is being killed every single day by these religious men who are offended at everything. How long will it be before our breathing space is further extinguished, I wonder?

It is 2019. راح غطس كبدي بالجن بأسـم الاب والابن has caused a national crisis in Lebanon. Oh how far we have come.

In the 3ahd of Business Deals: Money Can Get You A Lebanese Citizenship, But A Lebanese Mother Can’t

Can you hear that? The sound of every supporter to the current ruling Party in the country scrambling to find every excuse under the sun to justify the latest naturalization law that was passed by their president? It reeks of principles, I’d say.

A couple of days ago, news of a naturalization decree signed by the president surfaced. The decree gave 350+ people the Lebanese nationality. Many of those people happen to be Arab businessmen. A few of those who were given the Lebanese nationality belong to the Maronite Diaspora attempt at reclaiming it for those of Lebanese origins.

The backlash has been swift. As have been the abhorrent defense of the decree by blind supporters of the political parties that brokered it. It even got to the point of an OTV reporter saying that the Lebanese nationality isn’t “that important” so we shouldn’t care.

In a way, she’s right. We have one of the world’s worst passports, worst economies, highest corruption rates, and horrid policies. I would know, I’ve been an emigrant from that country for nearly a year now and I can feel – day by day – how lacking my country is in every facet that I appreciate in being away. But that’s not the point.

The point is that our nationality should not be a mere business deal, given to whoever pays most money. It should not be a back room deal coming right at the heel of parliamentary elections, and it should definitely not be an article 49 in disguise, essentially bypassing Lebanon’s Supreme Court annulling such a decree from our national budget.

What makes this decree even worse is the fact that it has not been published anywhere, it’s the fact that piecing together the names of those who have been given the Lebanese nationality is essentially a puzzle, and that requests to get the full decree from the president’s office are finding deaf ears. If they have nothing to hide, then why are they working so hard at hiding it?

Some of the names that have been naturalized, according to Facebook posts circulating around, are entities that have been essential to the Syrian regime over the years.

Yes, there should be a path to citizenship for non-Lebanese. It is silly that the only way people can become citizens in this country is for a president to decide to make them so, or for them to be married to a Lebanese man or have a Lebanese father. There should be a way for a people who contributed to Lebanese society in a substantial way to be granted to have a way to become more integral parts of this society.

What this new decree does is further solidify the injustice that is ingrained in Lebanese society when it comes to the very foundation of it.

Any person born to a Lebanese mother can’t become Lebanese, but a Syrian nationalist that is loved by some politician can. My cousin’s children, for example, can never become Lebanese even though their mother is, just because their father is American. Our country shows us once again that money trumps our women.

In a time when the mere thought of a Lebanese woman becoming equal in passing her nationality as a Lebanese man is met with racism, sectarianism, and endless backlash from the ruling class, we show our women again and again that they don’t matter.

Furthermore, a person born and raised all their life in Lebanon to non-Lebanese parents can never become a citizen. But a business man from Jordan who needs the citizenship for possibly some financial purposes can. But yes, it’s all fairness and unicorns and happy thoughts.

It’s not about demographics. It doesn’t even matter how many of those naturalized are Christians, that is not the point. 400 people won’t cause a population change. But it’s the principle behind laws that are passed in the dead of the night, without appropriate scrutiny, revision, and assessment.

I hope the MPs and politicians that are against such a decree work on at least trying to block it. I’m looking at you Lebanese Forces and Kataeb blocs – you have enough MPs now (or at least one of you does) to do so.