We’ve all seen what’s happening in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world as far as protests go-the most recent addition to that list being the protests in Istanbul, Turkey and Brazil that managed to snowball into nationwide affairs. It was only a matter of time before the citizens of Lebanon followed suit (despite the oodles of reasons we should have sooner, as I once wrote about), and yesterday they finally did. Not too long ago a good chunk of our beloved MPs voted to extend their terms and to postpone the parliamentary elections for another year and a half, much to the ire of the common folk. They (I would assume) and others have cited the increasingly delicate and fragile political situation as their reasons for this, and they probably do have a point. Others, such as myself (ever the cynic), feel that they have ulterior motives and that even if they don’t, this only adds to the gradually surmounting catalogue of frustrations rife and synonymous with Lebanon. Nevertheless, regardless of whatever biases I hold, I’ll take a look at both sides of the fence and play devil’s advocate whenever suitable as this situation develops.
Yesterday marked the first day of protests in quite a while, the last time being around February against the Orthodox election law (which stated that each member of a sect votes for a respective representative of that sect within a municipal area; needless to say, the law failed). Compared to what I saw yesterday that protest was quite small and quiet. I expected this protest to follow suit-it started out at 1715 with several students, myself included, from AUB gathering in downtown’s Martyr’s Square. Eventually protesters from various other groups, including students from the Lebanese American University (LAU) and other groups I couldn’t keep track of assembled at the square and began the demonstration by holding signs and blowing air horns (much to my annoyance), getting passerbys’ attention to good effect. What was funny about the whole thing was that preparations for the international day of music festival (Fete de la Musique) were going on nearby. Really shows just how bizarre and bi-polar this country is.
The march on parliament began at around 1830 (I honestly don’t remember) and slogans declaring the city and the parliament of the people began being chanted as soldiers and policemen gathered and watched us make our way to parliament. By that time more and more protesters had joined the fray. The march had gotten as far as the Grand Serail but the real objective lay in the Sahet Nijme (Star Square), where parliament proper was located. Normally there are gates at each entrance to the square manned by one or two soldiers and/or policemen; this time whole platoons were assembled ready to stem the tide of angry sacks of flesh whenever possible, and they did-several of my own friends were caught in the fray and have the bruises to prove it. Aside from trying to push through the barrier, many protesters were throwing water bottles and other objects at the soldiers and policemen, even jeering them for what was to be expected of them in this situation. True, I hate the police and think they’re nothing but a corrupt lot, but there are two things to keep in mind:
1-These cops are likely on a politician’s payroll, so it’s clear as to where their loyalties lie.
2-Or they could just be taking orders from above and/or might have been blackmailed. We don’t really know how they think or how things are on their end. This also applies with the soldiers present (I tend to have more respect for soldiers and servicemen than I do cops).
Although the protests pretty much halted near the Grand Serail for the night, it certainly doesn’t look to be the end of it. Tents were pitched and as we speak the protests are still ongoing, and are hopefully here to stay.
My thoughts on the matter? I think people are going down there for a legitimate enough reason-after all, people everywhere are getting really pissed off and this latest blunder by our “leaders” is probably going to be the cherry on top, at least until the next gaffe comes ’round the corner. I also liked the enthusiasm, size, and persistence of the protests: people finally decided to get off their lazy and worried asses and speak up against what’s going on here. However, this affair is not one without worry: rogue elements (some of these were assaulting the barricades yesterday) could seize the opportunity to hijack this and let it all die out in vain. Another problem I can think of is that people across the country might just up and go on strike-people, we get that a lot is wrong with the system and we all (well, those with decency and functioning brains) want to fix it, but we also have a country to hold up in our own little ways, so let the guys with the signs do their jobs, and the guys at the computers and cabs do theirs. One final gripe I have is this: don’t f*ck with the army. Despite the double standards being committed at protests and gunfights (for those who don’t know, soldiers tend to crack down on college kids but not armed gunmen who need their reproductive capabilities removed), they’re still our army and one of the last threads holding this place together. My opinion is this: the less you piss off the boys in uniform, the more likely they’ll come on over to our side. Of course, I could be wrong, but can’t a guy dream?
In conclusion, if you want to get your voice out and if you feel your efforts can lead to change in this country, then go the f*ck down to Beirut and join the legion of the frustrated and jaded. But expect to stay there awhile if you truly believe in your cause, and just because you’re pissed doesn’t mean you should take that out on the troops. You’ll be taken more seriously if you don’t go bonkers and start hammering away at people like a rabid gorilla. Anyway, I should be there now and again, so expect me there. I’m the kid with glasses and the blue headphones around his neck, in case you’re wondering.
Y’all take care now.
Some photos of the event: