By Sara El-Yafi
Take a look at our Lebanese protestors, at least the ones I have seen: An assemblage of religious women wearing headscarves standing side by side with hipster secularists; civil war veterans and young men not old enough to remember 9/11; disavowed workers and contemplative poets chanting the same chants; pregnant mothers and wide-eyed children each displaying their respective validity in the same square; religious men and LGBTQ marching side by side; and capitalists, environmentalists, federalists and, yes, anarchists. These are people with outrageously diverse pseudo-ideological stances and social identities, but they have one main point in common: human dignity.
It seems this is a lesson that is very difficult to understand. Our history is plagued with the consequences of politicians and peoples who refuse to learn this eternal lesson: What fuels people’s madness is an assault on their human dignity.
“Political disagreements” don’t fuel demonstrations. It is not a dispute over utility prices, nor social classes, nor religion, nor economic development, nor urban projects, nor judiciary reform, nor taxation, nor electricity cuts, nor megalomania that drive people to the streets—t is the strike on their human dignity.
Dignity runs a lot deeper than respect. Respect is earned, whereas dignity is a birthright. It is our inherent worth and value; and striking anyone’s inner worth and inner value wakes the beast in them.
Physical it became
When the state of affairs in a country is so dismal that the state literally coerces its own populace to straddle over piles of gnawing filth in order to enter their own homes; when the state of affairs in a country is so abject that it forces its own populace to literally bathe in their own feces because the sewers and the slimy drippings of the summits of garbage have seeped through the water pipelines; when the state of affairs in a country is so wretched that enforced unemployed young men with no security lifeline have to opt for being hooligans and follow corrupt political orders just in order to feed themselves, the fight is no longer just a psychological torment, it becomes physical.
And physical it became. Yes, Lebanese security forces have a duty to protect public property, and any breech of a barbwired fence will be met with police protection, that is the law. But strike the people, physically, on their faces as they are simply clamoring for a sterile urban environment and you just fueled the fires of hell in a disavowed nation. A nation that not only has been continuously disparaged, abused and economically raped by its corrupt political leadership, but one that has just been beaten up by its own compatriots in official uniform who ultimately represent nothing but the sad reality of a degenerate system that they themselves are a victim of as well.
We all, demonstrators, hooligans and police officers alike, live in a country that assaults our human dignity on a daily basis. You strike human dignity, you awaken unforgiving demons. That is the superseding law of the human condition.
Recognizing the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of our society—each of whom is imbued with value and worth—is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in every nation.
Categorizing the Lebanese people is an assault on their worth—don’t do it, not even in your casual conversations, don’t dignify some over others. Don’t engage in a “they” and “we” dichotomy. That is what the political rulership does to us, and that is why they were able to rule on their own terms, but we should never do it to ourselves. The hooligans are “we.” The police officers are “we.” The demonstrators are “we.” The blinded partisans are “we.” And that is the start.
The powerful effects of seeing, hearing, and acknowledging others for what they have suffered is the ultimate unifying force that will have the power to pick up Lebanon and put it on a journey to enlightenment and face the political corruption of our nation, undivided, unadulterated, unfiltered.
Lords of the Land
With this idea present at the core and backbone of your thoughts, from there on you should know that the resignation of Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s cabinet is at the very, very tail-end of an immensely alarming, deep-rooted problem that needs much more than the resignation of the prime minister: that of a political feudal rulership that sucks all resources out of the country, unaccounted, unsupervised, unashamed and, which to a certain degree, Salam is not even a part of.
These are the feudal lords who have their own private villas boxed in “security squares” in the middle of our cities, shamelessly closing off main arteries of the city because they have the audacity to showcase that the horrible, daily commutes of citizens are certainly secondary to their own comfort and luxury.
The same feudal lords who have closed the political system in order to concentrate power in a narrow faction of society that they are a part of as they set up political and economic institutions that enrich themselves and impoverish the nation of its natural resources, wealth and opportunities.
The same feudal lords who have established a corruption-based state, with the weakest form of rule of law, which widens the rich-poor gap and retards the potential of our nation for their own benefit.
The same feudal lords who rig huge political electoral machines that buy votes and dispense patronage, and design policies that uniquely deliver power in excess to themselves exclusively through corrupt manipulative transactions whereby they take a cut from everything, and curtail others’ ambitions and they don’t include them in the pie.
The same feudal lords who continuously insult the “Lebanese people” and shamelessly disparage their demands for a minimally decent livelihood, as if the Lebanese people were only a bunch of flies who swarm around their pie.
The same feudal lords that stratify our society by ridding us with a crippling fear of “others” as they make sure the citizens selfishly associate with a clan by forever attempting to strip the dignity of their other compatriots who, they are told, should deserve “much less” than them.
The same feudal lords who reserve the right of ownership of whole industries to their own connections, freely engaging in price fixing that only serves their pockets, saturating the important markets, and turning all governmental ventures into monopolies or duopolies that persist for as long as they—the beneficiaries—are in power, limiting equality of opportunity and annihilating growth for the people of our nation.
The same feudal lords who leave us with a shortage of jobs, dismal salaries with no flux in the market, causing an incredible hemorrhage of talent, yet continuously slap those who stay with an exorbitant cost of living (38th highest in the world).
The same feudal lords who make us pay the price of their wretched corruption everywhere we go, because our Lebanese identity carries on its shoulders the weight of all our national shortcomings wherever we may go in the world. Ask every Lebanese passport holder what it feels like to travel abroad.
Is Lebanon a Failed State?
I reject the political rulership class. I reject every single decision they may make or take, no matter how advanced it may be today. Lebanon is becoming a failed state, by all standards, measures and attributes, and it is fully, effusively and entirely due to the fact that we allow rulership to be in the hands of gray-faced corrupt men who harbor a blasphemous sense for division, but absolutely no sense for public service.
It is a contemporary social science fact that First World nations like Britain, the United States, France and Japan all became rich because their citizens toppled the elites who manipulated power and controlled wealth, and their people effectively redistributed political rights across a broader segment of society—a society where the majority of people took advantage of economic opportunities available to all, and where the government stood accountable and responsive to its citizens. There is no secret as to how a country becomes developed; it is entirely and exclusively due to the development of egalitarian, transparent politics and economics by the people, for the people.
So there is a great test for us here today. Our actions can only result in significant change if this extensive section of society continuously rallies and heavily lobbies for prompt political change by mobilizing itself not to dominate the self-serving political and economic systems, but to turn these self-serving institutions into more egalitarian ones on our own terms.
Our fight is with the feudal lords. Whether this all-encompassing national spirit and this contingent course of action can empower our nation and result in long-lasting political reform will depend fully on us and what we decide to create together; it has nothing to do with the responsiveness of the political rulership. We should be the ones proposing plans of action, not merely waiting for politicians to propose plans of action. In fact, we should reject everything they offer, because none of the politicians in parliament are legitimate representatives, nor were they elected by us.
As a fellow compatriot of yours, I vow to—in the next few days—propose said solid plan of action with fellow key citizens and mobilize ideas of growth and development for Lebanon, starting with the waste issue, which I happen to be well-versed in. I would love to have you on board; do drop me a message so I make sure you are briefed .