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.

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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.

To The Americans Fighting The #MuslimBan, A Middle Eastern Thank You


Dear Americans standing up for human decency,

Thank you.

As I saw the thousands of you gather around airports in the country, chanting against a ban that sees only hate, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how wonderful you are as people who care about others who are being targeted for things out of their control, for standing up to those of us who are weakened across the world.

To the protestors who stormed city squares and airports in a completely spontaneous manner because they couldn’t sit by and be complacent to such injustice, thank you.

To the translators offering their tongues and time to people whose voices have been taken away from them, thank you.

To the lawyers and the ACLU offering everything that they can give to those who have nothing to offer back, thank you.

To the army veterans, whose chests are adorned with Purple Hearts, standing at airports because this isn’t what they fought for, thank you.

To those who have defied their parents, friends and comfort zones to stand up for what’s right, thank you.

To the employers making sure their employees know their workplace is a place of inclusion, not exclusion, thank you.

To the hospital program directors who are making sure to reassure residency applicants, that are needed by America so, that their programs don’t look at country or race or visa status, thank you.

To the celebrities whose views have been chastised for so long, who have painted their bodies and advocated from the most watched podiums for those whose entire lives have been uprooted because of a signature, thank you.

To the taxis of New York, who risked their livelihoods for humanity, thank you.

To those applauding at airports as detainees were let free, for bringing tears to our eyes for your solidarity, thank you.

To the American companies, like Starbucks and Lyft, who want to hire refugees and are standing against oppression, thank you.

To the conservatives who voted for the man causing this, and who are now shell-shocked about what is taking place and refusing to stand by it, thank you.

To the Republicans who are not represented by this man and who refuse to partake in this, thank you.

To the Christians in America who know their religion is about love and acceptance, who know that Jesus wants them to turn the other cheek and not cower away in fear, thank you.

To the wonderful Americans who are spending their days and nights and all their free time shouting to whoever could listen that there are values in this world that are more important than politics, thank you.

To the ones who see us as people, not as baggage with frightening connotations in societies they don’t understand, people who should be given the same chance at a better life that their ancestors got, thank you.

Over the last few days, you have shown us an America that is, truly, a beacon of hope for the world, and hope is the weapon that scares those who feed on hate the most: to know that despite everything that they do, there will still be people who will not stay silent or complacent or succumb to fear.

I’m typing this today on a New York subway, in awe of what you are accomplishing and humbled by the outflow of compassion you are showing people you’ve ever met, that you’ve been taught all your life to fear and believe they only want what is bad for you. 

The freedom which you are exercising is the embodiment of the foundations your great country was built upon, that which entrances anyone who sees it, that which welcomes in all the weary, the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses waiting to breathe in that same freedom.

You are showing us every day that, in a world overtaken by darkness, that ideals can overturn tyranny and that it is okay to still hope in the face of such atrocities.
To paraphrase J.K. Rowling: “[hope] can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” Thank you for shining bright. 

 

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.

In Case You’re Hesitant About Going Down To Martyrs’ Square Tomorrow

What promises to be Lebanon’s biggest secular and non-partisan protest is set to take place tomorrow in Downtown Beirut at 6:00PM under the slogan: YouStink, addressing all of Lebanon’s ruling class.

This isn’t to those of us who are protesting tomorrow; this is to those who are hesitant.

We should go because the trash is piling up in the streets of Beirut again:

Tole3et Re7etkom Protest - 2

You should go because that wall they built for 24 hours in Downtown Beirut is the clearest indication on how dissonant our political system is from us as a Lebanese citizens.

Picture via @DisgraceOfGod.

Picture via @DisgraceOfGod.

We should go because it would be disgraceful to have these heroes in the forefront of the protest, and not have us to back them up:

Tole3et Re7etkom Protest - 1

We should go because every single politician in this country has has made us feel alienated, has made sure we felt that we didn’t belong in the confines of our own homes. All of them means all of them:

11954776_10153552564868770_4163497787365093159_n

This poster includes Hassan Nasrallah too.

We should go because our government is 3 degrees of barbed wire separation away from us:

Tole3et Re7etkom Protest - 4

Picture via Lucien Abou Rjeili.

We should go because the Speaker of Parliament gave orders to kill on Saturday.

Picture via Elie Farah.

Picture via Elie Farah.

 

We should go because a system where neither politics nor institutions are working is not a system worth maintaining. 

Many of us are worried about the protests turning violent. But know this: there will be so many people tomorrow that the security forces will not do anything funny. I also have first hand confirmation from the Minister of Interior Affairs, Nohad el Machnouk, that Lebanon’s security forces have been instructed to leave protestors alone.

If you’re still worried that the protests might turn violent after that, know that there are measures you can take to ensure your safety:

  1. Stay in groups of 5-6 people,
  2. If you get apprehended shout your name at the top of your lungs,
  3. Have a scarf ready with you along with a bottle of water in case tear gas is used. You can also have a can of Coke with you to use (it’s more efficient than water).
  4. Wear long pants that are not jeans to make it easier to run in case water cannons are used.
  5. Do not wear open shoes. Running shoes are best.
  6. When the protest turns violent, you can choose to leave.

If you’re worried about the protests being hijacked by Aoun or Hezbollah, it makes it the more your duty to go down, hold slogans against every single politician in this country to let them know that they aren’t a part of the problem, they ARE the problem.

If you’re worried about the protest becoming too anti-March 14, it makes it the more your duty to go down and tell your leaders that they aren’t only fucking up the country, that it’s not okay to fuck up your life as well.

If you’re worried about the protests’ demands not conforming with your political code, it makes it the more your duty to go down and make sure that your voice is heard, that your demands are not kept in the confines of a room in front of a TV set or a computer.

Why I’m Going:

I’m going down because for the second time in this country’s existence, I’ve found that there is a political cause I can wholeheartedly believe in, NOT to overthrow the government  and NOT to overthrow Nohad el Machnouk.

I’m going down because for the first time in a very long time, I feel that there’s something in this country that’s inviting me in, that’s making me feel worthy as a citizen, that’s giving me value, that’s telling me I matter.

I’m going down because I’ve been let down over and over again by a political class that has proven again and again not to care about anything but itself, not to seek anything but its self-preservation.

I’m going down because it’s not okay not to have a president for more than 450 days, to have my voting rights stolen twice, not to have the basic rights that people across the World have in 2015.

I’m going down to shout for my basic right, as a Lebanese citizen, to live in a country where I can access power and have a say in how things are run. I’m going down to protest for my right to be represented, to have an electoral law that makes sure I get a say, that my voice is not squashed as it has been for the 25 years that I’ve existed in this country.

Odds are I will find many tomorrow who echo these same sentiments, and so will you. I’m not going down to bring the system down. I’m going to try and fix this bloody system. I do so not with hope, for that is a foolish thing to have in such things, but with enthusiasm fueled by the feeling that my voice finally matters.

If not tomorrow, then when will we stand up? When will we say enough is enough? When will we try to reclaim our own voice? It’s high time we do. See you in a few hours.