On Stitching Beirut Back Together or Another 13th of April Story

This week end was the commemoration of the start of the Lebanese civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. I’d refer you to a history book to get all the details of how it started, what happened, how alliances were made and broken, except that us Lebanese may have cooked the biggest Hummus ever, we’re still not able to agree on the same version as to why and how the war happened. So officially, there is no lebanese history taught in schools from 1975 on. 

I could go on and on about the massacres that were perpetrated, about the history of blood, and loss, and hate and pain that characterized that era, for there were quite an impressive amount of them, all more horrifying than the other, except that I wouldn’t quite know where to begin. 

One of my first memory of Lebanon is how the city center was utterly, completely and irremediably destroyed. I remember the first time I saw it, as well as the first time I passed by Galerie Semaan, I remember thinking: what utter horror. I was six, I think it must have scared me like a horror house or something. I couldn’t quite fathom it. 

Have you been to the city center lately? Could you ever tell that shiny, happy, Khaleeji-friendly place was, not so long ago, the horror of its inhabitants own making? No one could ever guess it by looking at this Potemkin village. Some call it resilience, I call it amnesia. Capitalist Beirut did not try to give its city center back to its inhabitant, a place they could reoccupy and reinvent, with new activity and new contacts with one another, it tried to gloss over the horror with mock pre-war architecture, pretending it was the new and improved Beirut when in fact it is nothing more than a place for others, a place for tourists where Lebanese do not communicate or build ties. Post war, it was a no man’s land, post post war, it’s still a no man’s land, and no amount of sparkly shops can ever change that. My friend and writer Sara Abu Ghazal says it really well in her last article “Politics of Closeness and Alienation[1]” ,

Beirut is a city that represents short memory, with an outstanding privatized downtown that screams in your face: nothing happened here. 


Except that things, terrible things, did happen here, and that we’re still stuck with the system that allowed them to happen. We’re still stuck in a sectarian paradigm that has brought us nothing but chaos: yet we’re still quite happily carrying on with it. 

Among the many things that shock me when talking about the civil war is how all those warlords, all those corrupt, disgusting murderers got together in Saudi Arabia, gave each other a pat on the back, declared amnesty to one another, then came back, told the people, yalla, 3a byoutkon, go home, the war is over, leaving only a skeleton of a country licking its wounds, a devastated population while they had made more money out of death and destruction than decency would allow me to mention. 

150 000 people dead. 17 000 disappeared. A handful of power hungry corrupt warlords still ruling the country, not really giving a shit about the people that actually paid the high price for their lies. 

This is what we have to show for the war.

So today, the coalition for Social Justice, Equality and Secularism had invited different groups to march throughout symbolic parts of Beirut, where the infamous demarcation line used to be drawn during the war, a line that is still very much drawn in the Lebanese’ collective subconscient. 

And on we marched, from Chiah, through Ain el Remmaneh, to Adlieh screaming that we should never forget what happened in our country, chanting that those people, the 150 000 people who died, were not rocks or pebbles on the streets, they were people, human beings, that deserve to be remembered, and respected, that the 17 000 disappeared were not insignificant, that we could allow ourselves to forget them and move on, that they too, need to be remembered, their fate, elucidated. 

And on we marched, singing that we will never, ever let a civil war happen again. People’s faces were grave, they were watching us as we blamed the parliament and the current ruling political elite, some, mostly older women, threw rice on us, as a blessing, as a way of wishing us well, others openly told us, bravo, bravo, some looked at us with weariness, some kept silent, others said Allay y2awwikon. They looked at us, as we were forcing them, by our presence, to reflect on our shared history. 

We were not many, in fact we were disappointed we were not more, but as I was marching, I was deeply listening to the chants around me, especially one: They created the demarcation line, us the people, we are erasing it. 

And as I was marching, I had the image of the line as an open wound, and that each of our step were the stitches that were going to close the wound together. 

Yes, we were not many, but if several of us carry on the stitching, then maybe one day the wound will only become a scar, something we would look at and say about: see that scar? I got it doing something really stupid.

I’ll never do it again. 

[1] http://www.sawtalniswa.com/2012/04/politics-of-closeness-and-alienation/

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On Why We Are Demonstrating

This article was written for Sawt Al Niswa, the AMAZING online feminist space

I read an infuriating article today, a blog post that was so patronizing it made me feel sick to the stomach. The writer referred to our action as “delusional” and while he deemed our struggle as “righteous”, he did not see it going anywhere for the moment. But Behold! For his was kind enough to provide us with an alternative solution, with other priorities and other actions.

The author’s intention was probably not to minimize our struggle, or be patronizing or anything: he probably did not notice that his sickly sweet rhetoric merely felt like a paternalistic pat on the head, like someone telling you you’re cute but naïve. Like someone not really believing you had serious reasons to be angry and to demonstrate.

Which got me to think: what are we fighting for? Why are we demonstrating?

First and foremost, there’s of course the issue of rights. We are demonstrating because the state has duties towards us, obligations it has signed on in an International Convention (CEDAW), voluntarily binding itself to respect, protect and fulfill them, rights that we can see are not being respected, protected and fulfilled. Hence, by making ourselves heard we are simply putting into action our democratic rights. We are neither demonstrating because we are spoilt brats, nor because we don’t have anything else to do or because we are delusional naïve nymphs living in Lala land. Rather, our carefully thought-out collective action is our weapon to put our government in front of its obligations. Its obligations is our rights, and it is our responsibility to demand them, to claim them, for the shameful rape laws are not going to be cancelled by themselves; and neither is the Violence Against Women Bill ever going to materialize and be adopted out of thin air. We demonstrate because the numbers 478, 488 and 489 (criminal code provisions imposing higher sanctions on women found guilty of adultery than on men) 503, 504 and 522 (laws pertaining to rape) cannot be read without a shudder. We demonstrate because of the large Violence Against Women Bill-shaped gaping hole within the Lebanese legislative apparel. We demonstrate because religious authorities are playing deaf and blind to that very simple fact: there are women in Lebanon, and we are not walking wombs. Rather, we are human beings who saw evil, heard evil and witnessed you speak your evil.

So we’re taking to the streets, armed with an international Convention, armed with laws and principles and a whole set of values that we think are worth sharing. Several people and bloggers seem to think that we’re ahead of the game, that before obtaining a change in the laws we need to establish a civil state in Lebanon then we’ll be able to see what we can do about women’s rights. It’s the same old song: women are selfish for demanding what is theirs, they should wait until the whole system changes until we can tackle women’s rights. To which I answer 1) Women Won’t Wait 2) why not think of changes in laws with regards to women as an opening door to a wider change in the system? Advocating for women’s rights is advocating for a more egalitarian society, it doesn’t mean favouring one injustice over another. The way I see it, turning Lebanon into a civil state will take longer than adopting the Violence Against Women law: what are we supposed to do until we reach that point? Sit around and pray?

The demonstration however even goes beyond obtaining our rights. It has become a question of reclaiming our very streets, each corner of our city until we find that we can walk around without fear or of uneasiness because of stares, glares, insults, offensive comments or unwanted physical contacts that is just plain sexual abuse. We’re demonstrating now because our cup is full: we’re tired of unlit zawarib where even the less sporty of us turns into a sprint champion until we reach our cars, we’re tired of feeling as if we’d like our breasts to be invisible, we’re tired to be harassed just because we are women. By pounding the streets of Beirut we’re making a strong statement to those who would like to see us off them, tucked away in our homes that sometimes are more dangerous that battlegrounds, as if under house arrests: look at us, we’re women and human, we want our dignity and safety.

We’re demonstrating because this way we get to say our stories, with our words, our chants, our actions, with no self-appointed authority (religious or otherwise) telling us we’re asking too much, too soon, too aggressively.

Our bodies are ours, and no one but us gets to dictate what we should do with it or whom and when we decide to give it to. Our voice are ours too, and no one but us dictates when and how we should use it.

So on Saturday the 14th, I will pick up my banner and I will shout for my rights until my voice gets hoarse. But I promise that if you see us on the streets, and still have questions, then I will use it to talk to you.

And maybe then, you’ll walk with me too

For the post mentionned at the beginning please see http://beirutspring.com/blog/2012/01/03/kafa-is-delusional-the-lebanese-state-neither-has-the-will-nor-the-way-to-get-into-lebanese-bedrooms by BeirutSpring


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