MON 27 - 1 - 2020
Dec 11, 2019
The Daily Star
A revolution for the soul of Lebanon
Four days into the Lebanese uprising, I woke up after a few hours of sleep, feeling sore and weary from days of demonstrating on the streets of Beirut against a corrupt political class which refuses to heed the cries of the millions of Lebanese across Lebanon and in the diaspora, demanding an end to the corrupt clientelist system which has been in place since 1943.
Going through my morning ritual of reviewing my phone texts, I received a message from a good friend informing me that he intended to sell his house and give the money to support the national uprising, which his two sons were actively partaking in, so we could stay on the streets and not collapse from exhaustion or the bullying of the political class. My friend, who is 66, is not only a zealous supporter of the revolution, but also a seasoned veteran of the Lebanese Civil War, having led the Druze militia on various occasions in battle, and had lost his father and over 80 of his friends and relatives who fought by his side - the latest being the May 7, 2008, clashes with Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese subsidiary, which tried to topple the democratically appointed government at the time.
My 66-year-young friend is one of the millions of people who simply was part of a collective awakening and chose to stand up, not merely to a corrupt political class which has failed time and again to assume responsibility for its actions, but also for his dignity and pride, and to possibly redeem and repent for years of supporting this clientelist system that has pushed Lebanon into total economic and political meltdown.
It is no mere fluke that the Oct. 17 Revolution came on the heels of a number of events which the political elite failed to grasp, and in turn led the Lebanese public to realize that their years of trusting in their warlords-turned-politicians must come to an end. The forest fires that broke out on Oct. 13, a few days before the start of the uprising, were a sober reminder to the entire nation that their government was unwilling to take action or responsibility for its shortcomings. Equally, the failure of the Lebanese state and all its various agencies to deploy a crisis response plan was met with a touching cross-sectarian response which saw people across the land rush to the aid of their compatriots and organize relief efforts, as well as provide housing and emotional support to the hundreds of displaced and devastated families, thus proving that these sectarian boundaries are not as robust as they seem.
Another equally important catalyst for the revolution has been the rush on the dollar and the currency crisis which Lebanon is facing, leaving people frustrated and unable to obtain their hard-earned money, and at many times being insulted by the bank tellers and their managers who haphazardly implement their discretionary authority over who gets their money and when.
This was no mere monetary inconvenience, but rather a blow to the dignity of the men and women of this country who work hard to put their children through school so they can possibly later emigrate in search for a better life. Just like the Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze for having been repeatedly insulted by the police, thus igniting the Arab Spring in 2011, the people of Lebanon decided to torch the temple of corruption they called home for so long, and to rise from its ashes soberer and stronger.
As a lecturer in history at the American University of Beirut, one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the region and perhaps beyond, I teach and publish about the history of modern Lebanon and the many tragedies and triumphs of this small nation. Years from now if I am lucky to write about the events that are unfolding in front of me, I will certainly not focus on the complicity of the international community and the Trump administration with the ruling elite, nor the hoodlums of Hezbollah that have repeatedly attacked us while we demonstrate. Rather, I will reminisce and write about the brave Lebanese and my 66-year-young friend who reminded the world that dignity and morals are the first pillars of nationhood, and above all, that they are the real masters of their destiny.
Makram Rabah is a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, department of history. His forthcoming book, “Conflict on Mount Lebanon: The Druze, the Maronites and Collective Memory,” (Edinburgh University Press) covers collective identities and the Lebanese Civil War.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 10, 2019, on page 4.
The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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