Letting go of Lebanon's revolutionary nostalgia is the only way to fathom our future

Letting go of Lebanon's revolutionary nostalgia is the only way to fathom our future
Comment: Lebanon must let go of the symbolism of last year's revolution and accept its current uncertainty in order to create new hope in this dark moment, writes Carmen Geha.
6 min read
14 Oct, 2020
A demonstration against the political elites, four days after the blast in Beirut [Getty]
This time last year, North to South, people in Lebanon were denouncing sectarianism and asking for an independent government. The rest is history. The revolution created an unprecedented episode of hope for Lebanon. But what came next obliges us not to look back, but to let go of that moment, and look forward instead. 

To be clear, we are not letting go of the revolution nor of our struggle for accountable public institutions. My call is to let go of the moment itself, of its symbolism.

The October revolution should not be made a folkloric memory of any sort. I choose to let go in order to create new hope, while also accepting the pains and the unknowns of the moment. The local, national, regional and international scene has changed since this time last year, and the sooner we accept it, the better equipped we will be to move forward.

I did not invent the concept of letting go, I am borrowing it from Rebecca Solnit's "A Field Guide to Getting Lost" and customising it to our present politics in Beirut. Solnit talks about leaving the door open to the unknown, even if that future is dark, and the present moment is even darker.

The explosion of the century

The Beirut explosion on 4 August was the epitome of what this regime has to offer. A sectarian power sharing system molded in the hands of warlords who devised it with a sole purpose in mind: to keep themselves in power.

This week officially marks 30 years since the end of the war, when the Syrian army stormed Baabda palace defying General Aoun and killing hundreds of soldiers and innocent civilians.

The rest is history, Aoun sought exile in France until 2005, and the moment the Syrian troops left Lebanon Aoun sealed a deal with Hezbollah. Today, Aoun is president with full backing from the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

The explosion on 4 August which shook the grounds we stand on still has not shaken the pillars of the power-sharing system

The souls of the men and women killed that day still call for justice. The evidence is crystal clear: warlords cannot govern or make peace deals. The explosion on 4 August  shook the ground we stand on, but not the pillars of the power-sharing system. In fact, nothing in our recent history has shaken these pillars, not even a civil war which claimed the lives of over 120,000 people.

The truth is, we may never see justice and instead must turn to each other for solace, collective grief, and justice. One way of doing this is to choose resistance and defiance of oppression over a narrative of resilience. For it is the power-sharing warlords who are resilient, who transferred their dollar accounts abroad, and who are negotiating a new government. We are the survivors of the explosion, and we are left to fend for ourselves in its disastrous aftermath.

Read more: Is time running out for Macron's credibility in Lebanon?

A painful realisation

"If it were just one thing, we would know what to do, but I would not even know where to start even if I wanted to do something," my friend cried out on a call this morning.

The overlapping consequences of oppression, financial collapse, economic depression, the explosion, and the coronavirus pandemic would drive any nation to insanity. Living through the pain of a "normal" disaster caused for example by a hurricane, would require us to take time to heal. But living through it, in the knowledge that the culprits had known about the explosives for years, is nothing short of inhuman.

This pain co-exists with continued rage. Strategically designed to support a web of clientelism, our health and education are tools for politicians to buy votes. That is why before every cabinet formation, politicians bicker not about policy or solutions for the nation, but about what ministerial portfolio they want their hands on so they can use it to promote their own interest and provide for their base.

They will never design solutions; they cannot, as they have no interest, will or competency to provide for the nation, only themselves. The quicker we accept this the quicker we can find solutions to our own problems. Just as they left us to fend for ourselves in the aftermath of the explosion, pulling out our own bodies from under the rubble, so too will they leave this generation to fend for itself.

Experiencing the unknowns

I do not want to keep my eyes on the rear view mirror. I do not want to look back at old thawra pictures. Yes, the revolution was a critical juncture, yes, we created transformation, but the moment right now does not present a political opportunity for us. The moment is a stalemate, a systemic solidifying of a century old deal brokered by a group of men, warlords, and merchants.

We are entering a dark unknown and the only way I can face that is to limit the damage, and support the people I love the most. To experience the unknown, I know I must be as "well" as I can for the people who love me and need me the most.

Solnit talks about togetherness and finding hope in the dark not as a naïve attempt to be "positive" in times of crisis, but as a choice to take action when life is in ruins. I am not afraid of getting lost in Beirut anymore and I am not afraid of losing the way.

Just as they left us to fend for ourselves in the aftermath of the explosion, pulling out our own bodies from under the rubble, so too will they leave this generation to fend for itself

The anti-apartheid movement fought for decades before the moment was opportune and Nelson Mandela became president, a fact that still baffles and empowers my South African friends.

We are not doomed to live like this forever, but for now we are experiencing so many unknowns including the value of our currency, whether or not a cabinet will be formed, whether or what kind of aid will flow in, and how many of us will survive the winter and the pandemic.

We must learn to expect and live with this uncertainty. Meanwhile, for the first anniversary of the revolution on 17 October, all I will be doing is calling them out name by name, man by man - those who knew about the explosives stored at the port and did nothing.

They cannot claim to be living in the unknown. They knew, and they did not care. The revolt now, is for accountability and writing our own history, from this day forward. 

Carmen Geha is an activist, feminist and scholar, researching politics, crisis and mobilisation in MENA. She is Associate Professor of Public Administration at AUB. 

Follow her on Twitter: @CarmenGeha

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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.