Protesters from Lebanon’s #YouStink | طلعت_ريحتكم# movement staged a sit-in at the Ministry of the Environment today and vowed not to leave until Minister Mohammad Machnouk resigned from his post. The day ended with the police storming the building and forcing the protesters out.
I’m not in Beirut at the moment, so I’ve spent the past few days following the events on television, Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere. I’m struck by how readily the movement has ripped up the familiar categories of Lebanese political partisanship (March 14, March 8, Sunni, Shiite, Christian, FPM, LF, etc.) and replaced them with a call for knowledge-based solutions to universal problems. Perhaps the picture on the ground is different, but the reverberations online conjure up a great wave of disgust directed at the whole political stratum.
For example, when the FPM recently tried to smear one of the movement’s organizers, Assaad Thebian, as a cross-burning infidel, the move backfired badly (see Elie Fares and Emilie Hasrouty’s responses, in particular). Earlier today, when the M14 journalist Charles Jabbour wondered aloud why the Sunnis of Lebanon were not coming to a Sunni minister’s defense as he was “besieged” by protesters, his Facebook thread was trashed by disgusted readers.
Lebanon may not be witnessing the birth of a post-sectarian civil state but something unprecedented is taking place. The language of protest chants, placards, tweets, and media interviews is unlike anything we’ve heard in the past ten years. The Arabic speakers might be interested in listening to some of the protest rap that is coming out of the movement. My favorite is this tune by El-Rass and MC Nasserdyn (of the famous Touffar crew). The lyrics are brilliant and shocking in their audacity, even by Beirut’s cacophonous standards.
And for a taste of some ironic neo-tarab, here’s another recent anthem (“Kellon ya3ni Kellon” = “All of ’em means all of ’em!”):
Over the past few days, almost every party leader has given a press conference pledging his support for the protesters while warning them not to be co-opted by one side or another. So far, these warnings have sounded more like cries from the wilderness and pleas for relevance. I worry, though, about how much longer the protesters can hold their ranks before the inevitable infiltrations begin.
To follow the events online, I recommend Mustapha’s excellent #YouStink News page. For the best account of how Lebanon got into this mess in the first place, there’s this report by the indispensable Matt Nash.