In Lebanon, revolution soothes a depressed nation

In Lebanon, revolution soothes a depressed nation
Comment: Can revolution provide the salve a depressed nation is searching for? Carmen Geha finds hope and solidarity on the streets of Beirut.
7 min read
18 Dec, 2019
'This revolution has emerged as the only way to fight depression' writes Geha [AFP]]
Today is day 62 of the nation-wide protests that swept across Lebanon on October 17. 

Driven by overlapping layers of a deteriorating economy, a failed political class, decades of corruption and widespread inequality, the nation has acted relentlessly; taking to the streets, showing up at politicians' houses, and reclaiming public spaces. 

It has been an overwhelming experience restoring our sense of citizenship and shared political responsibility to make our voices heard. The politicians have - as expected - acted like text-book dictators, using violence, oppression and counter-narratives to silence and threaten us.

Nevertheless, each day we surprise ourselves repeatedly when we show up not only against the ruling thugs, but also for each other.

Like hundreds of thousands of folks in this country, I have been battling depression, and trying to push through these past few months. I do realise that I am one of the more privileged, not to have to worry about food or a roof over my head.

Still, while the months leading up to the protests were tough, this revolution has emerged as the only way to fight depression. In many ways, it is a revolution against depression and surrender.

Here is how and why our revolution is the only mechanism and way out of depression.

An opportunity to speak out 

In the months leading up to the protests, increased censorship and threats against freedom of speech were widespread.

We worried whenever we posted anything on social media, and we lowered our voices when we mentioned certain names in public. 

The protests made cursing politicians into a national anthem. We shouted out their names, all of their names, with no fear because not only we were many, but also we were rightful in our accusations. There are no taboos in a revolution, and no politician is sacred.

We stand against a handful of men who divided power among themselves after the Taif agreement, promised us reform and prosperity. Instead, they delivered garbage to our doorsteps, cancer to our children, and finally teamed up with the banks control our money.

There is no better antidote to repression than speaking out.

During the protests, I saw faces I did not know but felt in unity with. I would do anything to protect their right to speak out. We showed up at the police stations when young men were arrested for supposedly cursing public officials, we waited for hours in the rain for the release of young men who we had never even met.

This was a revolution against self-censorship and for the right of everyone to speak out against everyone. This has never happened in Lebanon's history. Episodes of various protests and mobilisation were always led by one party against the other, and one leader against a cause.

But finding a unified cause - blaming all the politicians ('kellon yaaneh kellon') - for leading us to where we are now, is unprecedented, and the opportunity to be part of it not only battles depression but replaces it with a sense of hope and determination.

An opportunity for solidarity 

Experts have for years been warning that rising public debt, continued corruption, and weak infrastructure will lead us to financial doom. In the months leading up to the protests, dozens of my remaining friends - those who had not yet fled the country - began looking for jobs abroad.

News that the lira would default and that we would lose our purchasing power came daily. But to hear of hundreds of thousands losing their jobs, to see hundreds of thousands slip below the poverty line, and to watch people unable to withdraw their own money from the banks, was depressing beyond belief.

Naji Fliti, Danny Abou Haidar, and Antonio Tannous all took their own lives within the span of 48 hours.

There is no better antidote to repression than speaking out

Unable to secure basic sustenance, they preferred to die rather than to continue living in this country. For days, reports about mental health and awareness about suicide were all over my newsfeed. We wanted to share and post what we could, but I felt truly helpless in the face of all this depression and desperation.

But then the revolution hit us once more.

Networks of solidarity offering free medical and psychiatric care appeared. Dozens of initiatives to provide food, money, medicine and clothing for the poor were established. An initiative in memory of Naji Fliti brought hundreds of volunteers to start food banks and give out medical supplies in Lebanon's poorest areas.

This was also a revolutionary act and a curse against our politicians. We do not need them, nor do we care about their threats. For once, we are here for each other and for once our solidarity is louder than their policies to keep us hungry and needy.

An opportunity to win 

For decades, they have won literally every election, every juncture, and every government. We never stood a chance. They have weapons, TV stations, money and international support. I had completely given up in the months leading to the revolution.

I have always been a political activist and wanted to see people with merit and values come to power, but before the revolution, I never thought I would live to see this day. In a haze of depression, I found the only way to survive was to turn to friends, and think of my own building and neighborhood, forgetting the nation's woes.

But then the revolution struck, and replaced depression and surrender with hope. An independent candidate and human rights activist, Melhem Khalaf, won the seat of the head of the syndicate of lawyers. He started showing up at police stations and defending activists for free.

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We have begun organising for the post-revolution, with talks about reclaiming worker unions and building new electoral coalitions that are hopeful instead of hopeless. We win each time the politicians lose credibility. They have no option but to appear violent, which they do, or to appear foolish, which they also do.

Their rhetoric and approach to dividing us no longer work. We are winning because we are able to stand together and because our fight is for basic rights. 

The revolution is winning not only in formal politics through elections and demands for better representation, but we are also winning people's hearts and minds all over the world.

We are winning by reinforcing the idea that we have more in common than we thought, we are winning because we have exposed the lie that they are the protectors of the nation. We have shown them up as colluders of their own interests. The lie has fallen apart, the lie that they can build a nation is no more.

The promise of a better more competent political class is emerging.

Fighting depression daily 

Last week, I slept after dawn after one of the most violent nights of the revolution so far. Internal security forces attacked peaceful protestors, and pro-Amal thugs beat up citizens with no reaction from security forces.

My disappointment in the Minister of Interior, Raya el-Hassan made me fall asleep with bitterness and tears. When she came to this position, I, like other women, were very excited and hopeful.

There are no taboos in a revolution

I had heard from friends that she was an upstanding citizen, a good mother, and a liberal. The last thing I expected was literally hundreds of rounds of tear gas to be fired at protesters. Many spent the night in the hospitals and were beat up by security forces right in front of us.

TV stations documented the entire ordeal. Security forces were protecting an empty parliament while protestors tried to enter and reclaim the space. They attacked with batons and tear gas. Violent, aggressive actions taken against peaceful citizens who were merely asking that parliamentary consultations bring a capable competent prime minister, as news that Hariri was returning emerged.

I awoke outraged and scared, to hundreds of Whatsapps and calls, "let's meet at 4pm and walk together." We will not be deterred and there is no going back. So revolution in depression? Yes, it is the only option.

Revolution not against depression but in the midst of it revives life and hope, and puts us back at the heart of the nation.

It puts the corrupt politicians outside, and throws them in the garbage of history.

Whatever the outcome of today's protests, we will come back and sleep with a clear conscious and they will be remembered as the thugs, thieves, warlords, and wolves of a nation rising.

Carmen Geha is a political activist and an Assistant Professor of Public Administration at the American University of Beirut. She specializes in research on social movements and protests, women in politics and refugee policies. 

Follow her on Twitter: @CarmenGeha

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.