Letter to a Revolutionary

Ya Qalbi,

Yesterday I read a letter from Mashrou3 Leila:

“Today I found myself walking down Hamra Street, humming Abdul-Halim Hafez’s ‘Ana Leik Ala Tool’ to myself, and I could swear I heard you singing the harmony into my ear. It made me giggle a little burn into my chest. I worry you might get caught in a protest, imprisoned, kidnapped, missing, gone. But I know you need to do what you need to do; I wouldn’t ask you not to, but please be safe. Someday, I promise, worry will be a sentiment completely alien to us.”

These words spoke to me, they spoke to the little demon worrier that seems to have taken residence up in my head. The letter spoke of fears of loss, it spoke of courage and of strength. It spoke of accepting the evidence of the need to fight, despite the dangers and the intimidation, despite the worry and the dread. You know this is what I struggle with the most, you know I couldn’t bear to lose you to the claws of an absurd regime. You know me, inside and out.

Leila’s story is fictional but for us it is all too real, or maybe she’s just a projection of a million fears experienced by a million hearts, making her more real than we could ever be.

You and I my friend are the children of the demise and disappointment of all our comrades before us, and the parents of an angry movement of hope : we tried and are still trying to revive the spark of contestation and revolution , and we’ve managed to a certain extent, or so I would like to believe. We’re marching for our present, yes, for our future, certainly, but we are also marching for our fallen friends, the ones who got killed and crushed and harassed and silenced. The ones who are still alive, They’re older now, they’re bitter, too, they don’t seem like they still can find the strength in them to carry on, yet you can find them next to us, their eyes barely daring to believe again, carrying in their hearts the memory of all they have lost, just like we carry in ours the smiles of those of whom we’re separated from by the inexorability of death or by the atrocity of prison walls and tortures.

My love, it seems like we have lost the innocence of youth and with it the ability to enjoy things in their superficiality. We can not be fooled anymore, and perhaps some days this realization is too painful for us to bear. My love, we are too dangerous for them to avoid us, they will hunt us down, we shall be prepared.

I keep hearing people comfortably sitting on plush chairs pompously labeling what we do: the Iranian “Green Movement” or the “Twitter Revolution”, as if Evin had never existed, as if the Iranians had never risen before the invention of social media. “The Arab Spring” now being replaced by the “Arab Autumn” or even “Winter”, as if revolutions could ever be expressed in terms of fucking seasons, as if we were sleeping and awoke like some sort of natural process, what are we, fruits or something? Pardon my language my sweet friend, but condescension irks me and I’ve never been one to shut up.

It has been a long time since we’ve started my beloved, and we are tired, yet the road up ahead seems even more tortuous and long, paved with too many traps for us to comprehend. Some of us decide to retreat, others become suicidal, we lose a few along the way, the sufferings are too much for anyone to bear.

Yet there we still are, despite the tears and the frustration and the tension and the deaths and the threats. Yet we continue, doing what we can, each at its own level, because we owe it to ourselves, to those who died, to those who fight, to those who lost, to those who are too deprived of privilege to attract wide attention to their cases.

This isn’t a Winter, this isn’t a season, this isn’t a moment that shall pass. This is a Revolution, a process, and it shall take its own sweet time.

We’re ready for it.

Collective analysis for radical change, or how I discovered (and applied) popular education

Day 2 of my AWID Forum Chronicles

As human beings, in this day and age of technology, we are constantly bombarded by information, data, facts and figures. This is why it is important to sometimes stop, and take the time to reflect on a certain topic. In and within itself, the AWID Forum is a place for learning, a place where knowledge, all kinds of it, is shared, be it through sessions, capacity building workshops, or simply talking to your neighbour, so you can for example learn that violence against women rates are sky rocketing in Fidji or that militarization is an extreme form of institutionalized patriarchy.
The in-depth sessions the forum is piloting in its 2012 edition allow for a strong focus on a certain topic, running for three hours and a half every day of the forum, a bit like an intensive lecture/participatory session. Being the Middle Eastern obsessed person that I am, I’m currently following the in-depth session on women’s rights and transition democracy in the MENA region.

After a plenary in which Rabea Naciri from Morocco and Asma Khader from Jordan spoke about the constitutional processes and changes in the region, participants broke into groups to discuss constitutional reforms, the role of media and social media in making women’s claims visible and processes on transitional justice. I was lucky to be part of the group on constitutional reforms: it felt incredibly empowering sitting at the heart of a women’s cluster, reflecting and suggesting strategies on the core laws and processes of the countries of the region. Women’s invisibility and the lack of gender perspective in the current constitutional assemblies (notably in Tunisia and Egypt) lead us to emphasize the need first of all of popular education on the importance of constitutional reforms and second of all, on the absolute necessity to have assemblies of women drafting their own version of the Constitution.

The issue of negotiations with conservative powers came up: as feminists, where should we draw the line? What are the non negotiables? Should we have a long term vision and keep our radical agenda and invest on education and awareness raising or should we cede on some points in the short to mid-term to insert ourselves in the debates and decisions? But if we do, would that keep the integrity of our thoughts and vision or who would be compromising the aims of our struggle? There are no clear cut, one size-fits-all answer to these questions, they take in-depth research, historical perspective, thinking and anticipation, input from different experiences and expertise to have a clearer picture of how to influence and shape the society we hope to see and want. We are still working on what the ideal gender sensitive constitution would be, but Rabea Naciri outlined some relevant, core points that Constitutions in post revolution countries should include, such as clarity of language and terminology so as to prevent any harmful-to-women interpretations and explicit prohibition of any type of discrimination based on gender on top of calling for substantive gender equality. Constitutions should also specifically speak to the rights of political opposition and mention and include civil society and its contribution to society as a whole.

Learning doesn’t specifically require in-depth sessions: it was incredible to also learn new concepts and methodologies during break out sessions. Today, I have learnt more about the topic of popular education and how it can have a strong impact on economic education for women’s economic empowerment. This session prompted a lot of reflections for me as it helped me put a very concrete strategy on the concept of collective power of women. Indeed, popular education being collective analysis and action for social transformation, it is nothing more than what we do when we sit down on the floor of the Halic Auditorium, creating our collective analysis to participate in the social transformations Middle Eastern countries are currently facing.

Talking about our collective power and our collective voice goes beyond mere words: by uttering these very ideas, we already start to shape the changes we want to see in our world.

Moroccan Tales

For the Sams (SamSam and Petit)

Brace yourself for stories of mysterious medina gateways, ochre and royal blue clashes of colours and mountains of couscous: this is morocco were talking about. 

Err, no.

Not exactly. 

I did see Casablanca’s medina (or at least the entrance of it) and perhaps one tenth of the entrance of the royal palace in Rabat, but the truth is, as I went there for work, I now know tiny little streets adorned with orange trees ( after all, we ARE in Morocco) rather than beautiful touristy places. 

And in a way, I’m glad I do. 

Take that blue taxi with me on our Rabat journey, and I’ll show you kindness and hospitality. First of all, Moroccan taxi drivers don’t sleazily look at you in the rear mirror, trying to make eye contact that’ll prompt heaving noises emanating from you as you vomit, the way Lebanese drivers to. Well, none of the exactly 10 taxis rides in two days I took did, so I m just basing myself on that statistics. Second, they don’t insult you if you don’t have exactly their fare the way same Lebanese drivers do. Instead, they’re just kind and nice and polite. (For a more in depth look at how much of a nuisance Lebanese taxi drivers can be (most of them ex militiamen) please see here

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m kind of rather chatty and love to start conversations, like with that Nigerian student we dropped on our way to les Orangers. He was amazing: he was the ultimate co pilot you’d want to have, showering Fuck you man! Right left and center to anyone who dared to come in front of us or was not respecting priorities, which kind of happened a lot. Pulling over at the Nigerian embassy, he just went: that’s my flag right there man! His good mood was contagious, so I just laughed and told him I had gone to Nigeria and loved it, which owed me a thanks man! And a high five. Then he properly looked at me and went: where are you from? 

Now this question is often tricky, as answering you’re Lebanese can have several effects, some of them unpleasant (as in: Lebanese huh? Sleazy disgusting stare, wink wink) (damn you Haifa Wehbe) (damn you patriarchy) but I took the plunge anyway and gave him my Cedarland origins. Aha! Lebanese huh? Can I have you number? As he wasn’t sleazy or invading my private space Or giving me horrid winks, I politely said no ( I’m married you see) ( gGod sometimes it really does serve me well) and he went his way, wishing us good luck and carrying on  his buoyant journey. He said he’d been in Morocco only for a few weeks: I couldn’t help wishing him well, and hoping he’ll still fire fuck yous to inconsiderate drivers. 

This left me and my cabbie on our way to a teeny street tucked away in les orangers, taking on our way a Lalla going about her business in another part of Rabat. After circling the orangers for about ten minutes it became acutely clear that I didn’t know where I was going, that my cabbie didn’t know where I was going and that it was a bit of a problem. Automatically, Cabbie and Lalla made it their own private mission to drop me at the exact point I should be dropped if their life depended on it. Loubnanyah? Asked Lalla with a grin. Naam, said yours truly with an even bigger grin. Ahlan! You have to learn maghrebi! We’ll find where you need to go! And with that all other plans were put to a halt and the quest began. So here I was, sitting at the back, stuttering apologies for wasting people’s time ( I’ve lived in Geneva, city where if you’re not polite, you can be shunt out of Switzerland by Calvin  or something) Cabbie asking on his left, Lalla on her right, until we arrived, me still apologizing, them still shouting words of welcome. 

When I retold that story to my Moroccan best friend, she said they loved Lebanese, to which I just think that it’s not that they love the Lebanese, it’s just that they themselves were kind. Mind you, I often heard the ‘we love the Lebanese’ claim in Tunis, Egypt and now Morocco. If we loved ourselves as a people as much as other people love us, we would have gotten rid of our appalling so called politics a long, long time ago, but anyway, I digress. 

Talks of elections, constitution reviews, organic laws and 20th February movements, slut walks and Islamist political parties rolled during two days, and I found myself back on the plane to Beirut, my mouth full of cornes de gazelle and my mind and heart set on Moroccan tales.