Lebanon’s youth take to the streets

Echoed by nearly two million people, this chant, a quite literal “fuck your mom” to Lebanese Parliament member Gebran Bassil, captures the very core of a united revolution. See, most revolutions are not carried by the sound of parliamentary insults. Most revolutions are not as frequently documented for their fun as they are for their impact. Most revolutions do not call for the total ousting of all members of government.

But the Lebanese revolution is no ordinary revolution.

Before the seas of Lebanese flags and deafening chants swept across my small Mediterranean country, there was a tax. A tax on texting. Presented by Minister of Telecommunications Mohamed Choucair, the tax would impose a 20 percent increase on the data prices of all calls through the widely used texting application WhatsApp. While the ridiculous greed associated with taxing free applications should and would be enough to put people on the streets, the WhatsApp tax would have a catastrophic impact on the Lebanese proletariat.

Composed of mostly young Lebanese laborers and Syrian immigrants, members of the working class in Lebanon struggle to afford basic data bills necessary to make use of a cell phone. Basic data is made unaffordable as a consequence of a technology sector monopolized by two major cell phone companies. This then makes WhatsApp, a free application, an essential tool in the day-to-day developments of these people.

To put it simply, no more WhatsApp means no more calls home for the young Syrian fathers who leave their children back in Damascus. It was a greedy move by a politician known more for his chocolate company, Patchi, than his contributions to government.

Choucair’s WhatsApp tax was quickly reversed, but the man so affectionately called hmar, or “ass,” could not have possibly predicted the revolutionary consequences of his greed.

The protesters flocked to the country’s center, Riyad Al Solh, by the hundreds of thousands. Ironically organized through a series of WhatsApp groups and broadcast messages, close to a million young men and women marched. Their demands were simple: Get rid of everybody.

They are frustrated—frustrated by the long-standing lack of hot water and electricity, along with the continuously spiking tax and the stagnant employment rate. This revolution, led first and foremost by the youth of the country, tired of years of unwavering and unfair policies, ask not for tangible change, but for a complete obliteration of the established governmental order.

A chant that began nearly a decade ago with the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and eventually Syria has now found its way to the Paris of the Middle East. “The people demand the fall of government,” the Lebanese people screamed. The pessimism that had blanketed the nation for so long seemed, if just for a second, lifted.

Revolutions are not uncommon in Lebanon. Conflict over the nation’s leadership had long been ingrained into its people. But this felt different. There was no anger, no violence. It was as if every familiar childhood story came to fruition all at once. Muslim, Christian, Druze, hand-in-hand in Lebanon’s streets. The music, the dancing, the singing that filled your childhood living room now filled the heart of the country. This isn’t the revolution the Western media usually conjures up for you—this was a party with a purpose.

For Jawad, a young university student and dear childhood friend from the city’s capital that I spoke to via WhatsApp, this movement finally meant he could fight for the home he dreamed of: “This is for three hours of electricity, this is for no running hot water, this is for the years of money taken from us, and the years of life taken from our grandparents and their grandparents.”

Part of what makes this movement so unique is its central demographic. The faces of the crowd—comprised mostly of individuals between 18 and 25 years of age—represent a drastically different upbringing and worldview from those who tore the country apart for decades.

These youth came of age in a post-civil war society, holding only onto stories and photographs of what the country used to be. How beautiful the country once was. Their lived reality has always been frustrating, always been grounded in corruption. For them, this gap–between the burned-down buildings and the expensive skyscrapers, between a war-torn past and a gentrified future not built for them–was patched by their unmoving unity. Yes, they did not know Beirut when it was affectionately known as the Paris of the Middle East, but as another young university student sarcastically put it, “Who wants to go to Paris when you have Beirut?”

Existing in this limbo between war and what was has never been easy. But it’s that gray area, that blur, that drives this movement forward. The Lebanese youth have nothing to look back to, so they continuously look ahead, and their demands remain unchanged. They do this in spite of the resignation of the prime minister. Despite the removal of the WhatsApp tax. Despite two weeks of ongoing protest. “Get rid of everybody,” they continue to chant.

Perhaps this revolution means more to me, stuck in Poughkeepsie, because I am still included in that youth. I too grew up stuck in the limbo of what Lebanon once was and is now, and I too was frustrated with my present, but this revolution has given me new life.

Even if the blanket of pessimism returns, and even if the greed creeps its dastardly head back into our vision, the revolution was a success. The revolution brought hope. The hope brought tears into my mother’s eyes, a hope that I hadn’t seen since her old photographs. That hope will persist. That hope is forever, and until forever comes:

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