Lebanon's October Uprising

IFI Op-ed #29: Prince Charming Is Not Coming and It May Be for the Better

Mona Fawaz | Monday, October 28, 2019

Op-ed Photo

Almost two weeks into Lebanon’s intifada, anxiety levels are rising. While hope for the government’s resignation and the instigation of a process of political transformation are high, the absence of a “leader” who guides the crowds seems to be the primary concern. Fueled by the political parties in power, the fear of chaos is understandably holding many back from participating in the ongoing demonstrations.


As an activist whose face has become known to a section of the public, I am consistently pressed for reassurance: “Do you have a name?”, I am asked. “Who is he”? “Just give me one name”.  Yet, as understandable as the need for reassurance and the presence of a hero seems, I strongly feel that we should be careful for what we wish for and how we channel our perception of a transition period. Indeed, the parallels between the longed-for hero and the prince charming who rescues the princess from the mean step-mother are eerie. In real life, however, it never ends with “happily ever after”, especially when you fall in love at first sight and move to “just married” in the spur of the moment. In revolutions, the hero has time and again turned into the new tyrant. Worse, it could lead to handing the uprising over to someone who can potentially negotiate in its name, but not in its favor. So does it mean that we should give up on the possibility of leadership and accept the rule of the mafia? Not at all.


The moment is for hope, and hope is warranted. Despite the violence protestors are witnessing in several regions and the beatings occurring–particularly in South Lebanon-, which is the unfair price many are paying, this uprising has achieved a massive win and we need to recognize it.


In the past few days, people in Lebanon unified under the demand of a dignified life, and a recognition that this can only happen through a process of political transformation. Whether it is the service driver who brought me back last night from the protests, the security guards who chat with me every morning, the lady who shared her umbrella under the rain, the chants of students across the corners of Martyr Square, the numerous people who approached me on the streets to ask to volunteer for Beirut Madinati, or the Minister of Interior, everyone recognizes that the economic crisis is not a “technical” problem.


And, for a nice change, it is not only the people in Beirut. From Nabatiyyeh to Halba going through Baalback, Tyre, and Tripoli, the same awareness seems to be rising. It is “a political problem”, one that has plagued the country for decades, one which drives most citizens to organize their lives through sectarian channels, pledge allegiance to sectarian leaders. The IMF will not solve it – not that it has ever solved anything. A “team of technocrats” flown from the glorious capitals of the world will not solve it. Only a transformative, secular, political process can address it, and this is what many are asking for.


But we have not won yet. For this transformative moment to succeed, there is a need to envisage the process of transition. It will require, no doubt, that we stay mobilized and active on the ground because this is the only way we can tip the balance of power. This is the first lesson of every political transformation. It may entail civil disobedience, decentralized direct action, and imaginative strategies on the ground. It requires decentralized political debates, teach-ins, shared discussions, public fora, thinking in closed groups, and more. It necessitates calling on local expertise, local dedication, and hard work. Moreover, a structure of accountability needs to be established, our version of Tunisia’s Instance de Verité et de Dignité to investigate thefts and crimes. The transitional period shall get the Lebanese diaspora to believe again in the country and invest in its resources, to recognize that damage engrained in a society for so long will not be erased overnight, and that corruption has trickled down to almost all social circles. It requires us to change our strategies, for no matter how corrective the street can be, there will be a moment to think of retreat. This period should allow us to imagine the modalities of this transformation, not only in terms of the leadership – and leadership is important – but also, and primarily, in our everyday lives. How will we teach differently? What will we consume? How will we conduct our civic duties differently? How will we relate to each other differently? How will we react differently to a daughter who says she wants to marry someone from another religion? How will we react to a son who wants to date another boy? How will we recognize responsibility for the children sleeping on the sidewalk? And so much more.


Those incompetent leaders in power will give in. I have a feeling that a society that has demonstrated so much resilience and determination in the last years can win. The challenge today is to know how to transition this moment towards long term, active citizen engagement, to make the intifada really win. I have hope that the time for positive political change has come.

Mona Fawaz, Director, Social Justice and the City Program, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut.

In line with its commitment to furthering knowledge production, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs publishes a series of weekly opinion editorials relevant to public policies.
These articles seek to examine current affairs and build upon the analysis by way of introducing a set of pragmatic recommendations to the year 2019. They also seek to encourage policy and decision makers as well as those concerned, to find solutions to prevalent issues and advance research in a myriad of fields.

Opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

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