Regaining Lebanon

Nearly one week ago, just a few days into the protests animating Lebanon, a Lebanese-American friend residing abroad texted me to see how we were faring. “Still hell-bent on that dump of a country?” he inquired.

Maybe if he’d asked me that same question a week before, before the catastrophic fires tore through the Chouf, Metn and Akkar regions, ravaging the lush greenery of the Lebanese mountain ranges; before we learned of the three Sikorsky helicopters, each equipped to carry 4,000 liters of water to douse fires, that had been grounded for years on account of neglect; before heads of state despicably proposed a fee of USD 6 per month for WhatsApp VoIP calls, a technology that is entirely proprietary and free to the public worldwide…maybe I would have conceded ashamedly to his logic.

“You’re right,” I’d have concurred. “This country is a veritable dump, and we’re idiots to be wiling away our livelihoods here.”

But something has happened in the wake of those fires and that heinous tax proposition, something every Lebanese has perhaps dreamt of heretofore and spoken of longingly but never garnered the strength and conviction to act upon. Indeed, those two concrete events were the proverbial straws that broke the camel’s back, collapsing our cushy soapboxes and spurring us collectively to action.

On the evening of Thursday, October 17, the public took to the streets in what appeared to be a long pent-up fit of frustration. The motives? They go to the tune of this:

Enough is enough, how much more can we take? We have nothing more to lose.

This rampantly corrupt government, from the ministers of Parliament to the Cabinet to the Prime Minister to the President of the Republic, has not only stripped us of every last penny but shackled our spirits, too.

Every rising generation applies for immigration and leaves, either after high school or university, to seek a better existence abroad. Lebanon suffers from an unemployment rate upward of 30%.

Water and electricity shortages continue to weigh down on us, even 28 years after the end of the civil war.

The level of poverty deepens and widens menacingly across the entire population. Juggling two jobs yet still struggling to make ends meet is not uncommon.

Nowhere in the world are mobile phone rates so astronomically high for both talk time and data, and yet technical performance (i.e., upload and download speeds) could not be worse.

The grievous list of woes goes on and on and on. You’d expect it to, because the Lebanese have been bickering for decades albeit with fear, restraint and reticence. But now, the lid has finally blown off the pressure cooker, and the steam is billowing out and up.

Protesters wave the national flag in downtown Beirut on Oct. 19. 
Protestors wave the national flag in downtown Beirut on October 19, 2019, or Day 3 of the revolution (Photo credit: Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images)

How do I feel, after almost nine years in a country I willingly chose to call home? Since the minute I moved here, I’ve been fending off annoying queries as to why, how, and what. Locals accost me as though I were brain-damaged or deranged: "You have an American passport? Hell, your parents reside in California, and yet you’re here? Are you out of your mind?"

In what nobody could have ever predicted with even the crudest measure of accuracy, the tables have turned. Lebanese expats are flying in by the droves to participate in the demonstrations invigorating cities across the country, from Tripoli in the north to Tyr in the south. They are standing shoulder to shoulder with their compatriots to demand the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Lebanese around the world, for the first time, want to be here, in the hotbed of revolution, as the people attempt to overthrow the ruling elite and give this country a fighting chance at being a real bastion of freedom, prosperity, education, industry, employment, and environmental sustainability.

What’s been surreal is the undeniable peace reigning over the demonstrations. Where people are assembled, they are gathered under the banners of peace, empathy, love, hope, and faith. They have even appealed to the emotions of soldiers, who are deployed in the streets to break up closures purposefully erected by the people to prevent a return to life as we know it, aka the status quo. The protestors are nonviolent warriors, wielding the power of the word to channel their anger and exasperation.

Women lined up in a peaceful standoff with the Lebanese army in Zouk Mosbeh on October 23, 2019, or Day 7 of the revolution. My sister-in-law Tania Ghabi is third from the right. (Photo credit: Joseph Eid/AFP)

Indeed, the world has turned a watchful eye to what is transpiring in Lebanon. Some are hopeful, rallying in solidarity at sister protests in major cities, while still others are doubtful. That doubt is understandable, for every time the Lebanese have stood up to the antiquated system, they’ve been subdued, pushed aside, and trampled upon. Every single time before this one, we’ve been silenced by empty promises of economic revival and growth.

This time, however, the momentum of the protestors keeps amplifying. In physics, we define momentum as the product of a particle's mass and its velocity. This revolution has witnessed an ever-increasing number of protestors (i.e., mass) coupled with louder cries and ever enhancing organization, effectively an acceleration that shows no sign of letting up.

As we enter Day 11 of the revolution, a day which might witness a human chain extend 170 km from north to south, we remind ourselves that the unlocked beauty of this country is worth the fight, the battle and the war; and that Lebanon deserves better, as do its faithful, both here and abroad.

Above all, we aver that this “dump,” purged of the virulent strains that plague it, has the potential to become a reference in the ideals of democracy, freedom, co-existence and advancement for every country around the world wrestling with corruption.

For deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome today.


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