From Ashes and the Phoenix

Friday, October 25, 2019

Earlier in May of this year, I had heard that wildfires were raging in the Amazon. While wildfires happen during every "dry" season, be it in the Americas or Africa, and also Lebanon, they are usually contained after a while and many countries prepare themselves appropriately for this kind of emergency. This time, it was the loud silence of the media and the proportions of the wildfires of the past month that finally drew the world's attention to the issue. There were huge chunks of the planet's lungs disintegrating into ashes and most of us were not even conscious of the catastrophe! And how would we be? Maybe if I hadn't been in Brazil in April-May, I wouldn't have read anything... until the fires spread so much that it became impossible not to acknowledge and investigate what was causing this chaos. Several conspiracy theories emerged and I am definitely not saying they are not founded. Coupled with emotionally manipulative speeches like Greta Thunberg's about climate change and I was ready to leave the scene... Let me just clarify my point of view.

On one hand, we have a Swedish teenager skipping classes to raise awareness of climate change. And she started it in 2018 already. Such a noble behavior! Except, wait. Living in Sweden is most probably very different from living in Brazil, Mali, or even Lebanon... and while it is commendable to speak up and stir things to provoke change, practical action on the ground has yet to be seen/measured. Yes, yes, Greta convinced her parents to stop flying around and to refrain from eating meat. She also sailed to the USA to attend the UN Climate Action Summit in NY City to limit her carbon imprint on the planet. All very admirable actions. On the other hand, we have the badly portrayed capitalistic oligarchs who are just looking forward to exploiting the natural resources of Planet Earth in a non-sustainable way. The recent state of affairs in the Amazonian scandal showed that indigenous populations were forcefully displaced in Brazil and also that the media barely mentioned the blazing fires on the African continent... this shows 2 antagonistic perspectives of the world and each claiming the other is wrong. Maybe getting closer to purely scientific facts is what is currently needed to move forward and craft an appropriate climate strategy on a global level.

To come back to the Lebanese set, less than 2 weeks ago, more than 100 raging wildfires erupted all over the Lebanese territory. This was equally unprecedented and soon blames were flying all over. The municipalities were blamed for not having cleaned the forest clearings after a very dry and hot summer, the Civil Society was pointing fingers at politicians for not having taken proper action in maintaining 3 aircraft that were intended for such catastrophic situations while Lebanon had to ask Cyprus and Greece for effective help and "public servants" (I write this in-between quote marks because I am being sarcastic here) started behaving like Kindergarten kids in saying .. but, but... it wasn't me! instead of taking things into their hands to find efficient solutions to the problem. A scenario that the Lebanese people had been accustomed to for so many decades. And, once more, the people took matters into their own hands and started several initiatives after the fires, all while the rumbling discontent was rising. Hereafter some creative posts were collected that represent the deep pain caused by these fires and how the people were coming closer to counter this catastrophic situation.

Amidst this low blow, as it seems that the fires were started/caused by certain people/groups of people - we are still awaiting the results of the investigation on the matter -, new taxes are announced. Let's pause here for a moment and try to grasp the idiosyncrasy of the Lebanese political circles. For the past 2 years, several experts had been warning about a total collapse of the financial sector, the last standing pillar of the Lebanese structure. We were all aware of the rotting administration and had been debating, for decades now, its resilience in surviving. Also and as a matter of fact, open hostilities and the War as we grew to know it in the eighties had practically receded, yet skirmishes here and there were erupting, fomented by lurking agents brewing trouble and reminding the people of the 1975 Civil War. Add to that the geopolitical equations, yes several ones, Lebanon is part of. And since no proper reconciliation had been undergone in the decades that followed the official end of the War, thanks Elle for reminding me of this crucial point, mental and physical wounds were still out there in the open. And the people kept more or less silent/docile. One of the reasons: we do not want to start a new war. We want to live in peace. See, we, the Lebanese people, with all its flaws, we are generously hospitable, and damn do we love life! Not death...

On Wednesday, October 16, since I usually go for some sports after work, an inner thought compelled me to pass by my parents' house and dig out my old 2005 Lebanese flag. I hadn't been to the streets since then. And I was disconnected from any political movement nor was I following closely anything happening on the local political scene as I used to. In 2005, we had a golden opportunity to create a better future for the generations to come. And wasted it. Dilapidated it. We were not ready as a people to stop being enslaved to rampant corruption, clientelism, nepotism, and sectarianism, in both religious and political ways. Maybe in our minds, we did want to create a new Lebanon. New institutions and structures. That overwhelmingly disappointed feeling jolted me back to reality and I forced myself to focus on the now. Something was going to happen. I could sense it very strongly. But we were not even close to being ready now... Back in 2005, we had think tanks that were seemingly prepared. And we miserably failed to get to the people. My current premonition pushed me to get my beloved flag out. And the next question that arose was, where do I place it? For now, and since it hangs on a rather long metallic rod, I simply planted it in my garden, facing Beirut, of which I have a superb view (see the pic at the beginning of this part). Little did I know at that moment, that I would be taking -it to the streets again...

As popular discontent started to grow as of the start of the week, it isn't until Thursday, October 17 that massive protests took the streets. My friends and I had already been discussing the possibility of an uprise since Wednesday and were observing the different scenes. One of them even joked if we would finally witness an October Revolution? What would happen if the people rebelled, let alone revolted? Would they remain peaceful? Would a certain political party interfere and in which way? What would the different political and geopolitical actors say and do? Will the Lebanese remain forever the puppets in other people's games? How long will it all last? Will people eventually let it go because they are angry, hungry, and tired? So many questions, worries, and our brains were churning at every possible plot and conspiracy theory. What is sure is that none of us expected what the days to come showed to be: the people took it to the streets, peacefully, and they refused to let political parties surf their wave. This was the momentum for the creation of a Lebanese Nation, where hand in hand people of different confessions, political affiliations, regions, and communities come together as one to shout ENOUGH and to claim what is and has always been rightfully theirs. Hereafter are some pics shot by me and some shared by others. They all have the following in common: they are the living proof that there is hope and that we are making our future NOW!

Now what made me refer to the Phoenix in the title of my article? As known from ancient mythologies, the Phoenix is a firebird that gets reborn from its ashes. Symbolically, this generally refers to a renewal. Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is often associated with the Phoenix because it has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times over its history. And when thinking over the succession of events from the wildfires to the uprising of the Lebanese people, my mind couldn't but make this recollection. Is it finally the time we are witnessing the rebirth of the Lebanon so many generations have dreamed of? A Lebanon where all citizens have the same rights, regardless of their gender, their opinions, or their community. Because we would have created a civic state and a set of civil laws to be applied across the boards. No exception there. And this is mainly what is being requested by the people. Unlike our politicians, who are weirdly impersonating Marie-Antoinette in their speeches to respond to the people's requests, the Lebanese people are clear: first, we demand the resignation of the government. Then, the current President of the Republic would consult the Parliament to create a new government, preferably with a limited number of record-proven clean people, who will be in charge to draft a new law for the anticipated elections that need to be non-related to the religious communities to abide by the current constitution and pass a rule of law to prosecute all corrupt public servants. Again with no exception. The parliamentary elections need to take place within a maximum of 6 months. The newly elected legislators will then elect their Head of Parliament and this is when a new President of the New Republic will be elected. Sounds simple to achieve, right? Hmm. Not so fast.

In fact, the realities of Lebanon are so intricate, that it will really take serious efforts to achieve the goals of the people's rebellion. The people in power, well they are technically not legitimate anymore - watch Nour to know more, in Arabic-, are clinging to their functions and slipping at every turn. From the Hariri speech (Prime Minister) - analysis and reply by Jad Ghosn, in Arabic - to the President's few words (Gen. Michel Aoun) - answer from Charbel Nahas in Arabic - and to the address of the Hezb's leader (Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah) - answer from Charbel Nahas in Arabic -, no proper answer and/or solution was given. There was a lot of focus on the personal and past accomplishments, which triggered a flood of creative rants on how detached from reality those declarations were. And many a supporter was really disillusioned and started wishing these leaders hadn't spoken. This does not mean that all is good under the sun. Or that a supporter will wake up in the morning having shifted his/her allegiance to Lebanon instead of a specific leader. Unfortunately, no. And we did witness acts of vandalism. Acts of non-peaceful (armed) agitation. Public property was damaged. On a side note, the crowds are chanting obscene words and weirdly mostly directed at only one of the current politicians. This is not being fair, and even though I am not a fan of his, that tune bothered me a lot and got me wondering if we were taking this Revolution seriously enough... Attempts to use the same tune with less vulgar terms and to serve the purpose have not succeeded as the crude shout has gone viral. Internationally... Coming back to our state of play, littering is also a given, and a major issue in my eyes, when enormous crowds gather, be it for a peaceful purpose or not. Have you ever seen the scene after a concert? I would like to indicate here that every morning groups of people, young, old, and even crippled, are gathering to clean up the streets before the crowds claim them again till very late in the night. Many are sleeping in tents to remain on the ground and show that the people are not backing down. Which is what had been counted on. Remember the 72 hours the Prime Minister requested to answer the public demands? That is psychological warfare 101. And we stood our grounds. We did not leave. True we cannot all sleep in tents on the streets each night. Each is being a revolutionary to the best they can. And the general atmosphere of people coming together and claiming their public space is simply amazing!

It is indeed with the support of so many Lebanese on all the Lebanese territory, and this is a first in the country's contemporary history, as well as the Lebanese diasporas, from the Americas to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, all the way to Australia, who are equally manifesting, that we are standing our grounds. In the first, women have claimed their role as active and participative citizens. Women of different confessions and social classes are standing between the law enforcement agencies and the protestors. As a human shield. By becoming the buffer to avoid clashes and the degeneration of the protests, women are finally claiming their role as a power of change. And one of them has become the symbol of the Revolution (see pics gallery below). This is how we stand together. Shoulder to shoulder. Regardless of gender. Where we are from. Or what we believe in. We stand united as ONE people. As the Lebanese people. Heck, we soaked under the rain for 2 consecutive days and nights and remained protesting in the open and in the squares. It is admirable how resilient and unified the Lebanese people on the streets are standing. Around 2 million persons took the streets at a point. That is almost 50% of the population, can you imagine? And as an unprecedented and unexpected move, Lebanese people in all the country, from Tripoli in the North, to Nabatieh and Sour in the South, to Zahle in the Beqaa, everyone chanted "Kellon Ye3ni Kellon" - for those who don't speak Arabic, this can be translated as "All of them, we mean all of them". In the past, at every small rebellion sprouting, the community and political leaders would immediately remind the people of the atrocities of the civil wars, raise the lack of trust towards the Other and throw down some candy talk to calm the streets. These tactics have blatantly failed this time. The current political cronies have stalled, spoken, and taken every possible wrong decision, as it seems, to remain in power. And flopped...

To this day, people are being cohesive with one another. Campaigns have been launched to gather everything needed to sustain the protesting efforts, be it food, umbrellas, clothing, or even money. The bunch of people who fear the "void", and the "chaos" and "civil war" have accused the protestors to be financially helped by "foreign embassies". The reply came out pretty fast showing people of different backgrounds and stands stating simply "I am Lebanese, I am supporting the Revolution". On another level, and as a means of mentally weakening the protestors, a lot of fake news is being circulated. I was the witness to one of them on Monday, October 21 at night. My friends and I decided to retreat a bit from the crowds and sit in the small park on Bechara El Khoury road. Beirut is not a very green city and such spots are all the more refreshing to me, an introvert who enjoys peace and quiet. Suddenly, I started receiving the same video from several groups and friends. After checking it, I decided to voice my concern to the friends I was with. See, the video showed a lot of motorbikes passing on that same artery with people riding them and holding up the flags of Amal and Hezbollah. I started texting the groups and friends sending this video that I was standing myself on that same road and there were a lot of people holding the Lebanese flag up high. No green nor yellow flags were to be seen. I got the answer that the video had aired on several TV channels and I kept repeating that it must be fake. I even sent pictures from where I was standing to show the scene. About 10-15 minutes later, the real news came out: the Army that had been deployed at all entrances of the Beirut Down Town area had stopped the riders from joining the crowds. At that same minute, it dawned on me how some people who are following the news be it on TV or in written articles, because they live abroad or they physically cannot be present in that particular location, are being bombarded with info and sometimes have their minds polluted with inaccurate messages. Lucky me, I rarely turn on my TV at home, I am not even subscribed to any channels, and I focus on receiving info from friends I can trust in relaying authentic facts.

It is 3 am on Friday October 25, 2019. Friday is day number 9 of the Revolution. I have just come back home from the streets. I'm physically tired. And at the same time pumped up with energy. I am proud of my people. I have never felt this proud to be Lebanese! I know that in a couple of hours I will have to be up and working because even though I am based in Beirut I work for our company in Africa and Iraq. Our teams there need me to be fully alert and available to help and assist on resolving issues at their different locations. It doesn't matter that reaching the office is becoming a new adventure every day. It is my duty to do my job to the best of my abilities. And I am equally committed to join my people on the streets. Every day. Every night. At every possible opportunity. The popular movement did start as a revolt against some absurd tax, and it is very important to note that this particular event was only the straw that broke the camel's back. My people are tired. Fed up of being abused again and again. They want to live. In peace. And this is what we need to keep in mind. Regardless of the reactions of the disconnected political circles and their statements. Because of the hardships that are actually uniting the people more than ever. We owe this much to ourselves and the generations to come. And I am constantly reminded by friends and colleagues abroad that our cause needs to prevail. To my concerned friends and family members who worry about the destruction of our beloved Lebanon, I simply say: Lebanon was, is and simply will be. We will not let the winds of change blowing at the moment stop. This is how much drive and motivation the Lebanese people currently have. You have to be on the streets among the crowds to see it and smell it and feel it. There will always be naysayers and thugs. Like everywhere else. Lebanon has hit rock bottom. The only way from there is up. And we are aware that the people who held the power do not want to let it go. I am very hopeful that we will not let them hold it forever...

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