The Lebanese Uprising (also known as October Revolution) began on October 17th, 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon in response to planned tax increases, which was the final breaking point for a population that was already outraged over their dire economic situation, the inadequacy of services like electricity, water and sanitation, the vast prevalence of government and elite corruption and the sectarian rule that sustained conflict and division among the different populations in the country. By the following day, the protests had spread to Nebatiyeh in the south and Tripoli in the north as well as many other cities across Lebanon.
I traveled to Beirut, Lebanon on November 25, 2019 in order to document their movement. The protestors had occupied Martyrs’ Square (renamed Freedom Square) and much of Downtown Beirut. There were many tents in place where conversations around solutions to their current crisis were being held, and they had reclaimed an unfinished and abandoned pre-civil war cinema and monument called The Egg for educational screenings and teach-ins. They had mutual aid stations with free coffee and hookah, and they served free dinner every night. Randomly, people would bring their own beautiful additions to the space. One young girl had erected a tent where women could tell and display their stories of oppression.
Street art was used in Freedom Square and the surrounding area for communication of grievances, for conveying hopes and possibilities and for expressions of solidarity with and from other movements and countries. The protestors were faced with multiple attacks at night by Hezbollah supporters where their tents and the large fist in the square were burnt down. The phoenix being erected in front of the new fist was meant to represent the phoenix rising from the flames. It was built from the poles of the burnt tents. Below are the voices from the Lebanese Uprising. Full interviews and audio compilations will be published over time.
“It’s not only about Lebanon. It’s not only about our government. This is a game. Our government is part of a bigger game, a worldwide game. All the countries in the world are under one control. It’s something very big…Everyone needs to wake up. It’s about waking up from worshiping the money, worshiping persons…We need to see the differences between us as special things…When all of the people see people as human beings only, we will begin the change…The perfect world looks like a big ass country. The name of this country is Earth. It will be so peaceful, there will be no need for police. Imagine you are living on a planet where you don’t need police because food is free, water is free, housing is free, traveling is free, and no need for paperwork. You can do whatever you want. When you have all of this for free, you really don’t need police. We need police systems everywhere and jail because there is nothing free. That’s a big problem. Everything is money. Food is money. If you want to marry, you need money. If you want to study, if you want to get knowledge, you need money…I want my work to be out of money. No need for money. If you are a person who’s good at cooking, you cook for everyone. Everyone will be good at something, and we will complete each other.”
“Why would I have food for money if God gave it to us for free? Why I should pay for water if God gave it to us for free? Why I should pay for our land if it’s for free? That’s my purpose. I want just to live a simple life planting my food and living by nature, by the river, drinking from it. That’s the life. It’s as simple as that. To me, I don’t want to build more buildings, towers. To me, buildings are useless…I want the world to look like the heaven that our parents told us about—rivers, fruits, honey, milks, cows, people, women, girls, kids to do whatever they want—the freedom. That’s what we are fighting for, to make this world our heaven. Heaven and hell is our own creation. We can make it hell, or we can make it heaven. It all just depends on us what side we want.”
“I was working in electricity, and I had to climb the tall towers, and I fell from a tall tower and lost four of the fingers on my right hand. From then, I couldn’t find any job. After eight years of trying to work with my incapabilities, I fell again. I lost some teeth…When I was five, I had no dad. I have a fear of my daughter living what I lived when I was young. I have no money to bring her food. I am not asking for money. I just want to work. I want to see my daughter have the right future. The non-profit organizations in Lebanon do not have much mercy on people like me. Here in Lebanon, no one is helping me. The human organizations here are also owned by the politicians…I would like to work in countries that respect humans.”
“I don’t know anything about Lebanon. It’s my first day here, so I shouldn’t say anything about Lebanon. It wouldn’t be respectful to these people. What I feel is that there is a deep cause of injustice in the world…I would like there to be freedom to speech, freedom to listen, and the heart to listen to the other’s point, food for everyone, housing for everyone, freedom to travel. Even if you want to stay at home, I think people should travel much more. When you leave your comfort zone, you are better to understand other people, and you understand what it feels like to be a stranger. When you feel like a stranger and feel that you lack something, you understand the people who lack every day. So freedom to travel, freedom to talk, willing to listen, of course food, water, housing for everyone. That would be a good world.”
“There seems to be a law of attraction, an energy in the world that is stronger than us. I think there is a bigger power and higher energy connecting us whether we know it or not. With the media and social media and what you are doing and all the reporters, it’s great, so we can all know what is happening with our fellow protestors. It’s not just protestors in Lebanon. Even during the protests, we are shouting sometimes for Chile. We are shouting sometimes for Iraq, for Egypt. For all the countries that are going through what we are going through, we are sending them our encouragement, and they are too. Sometimes we are writing on the walls the names of other countries and other revolutionaries. There is a collaboration that is not just on this land, that is above like a cloud of collaboration, which is beautiful. We really are changing the world. It’s going to take time. We’re going to suffer, but I think we will make it.”
“I think that all the Lebanese people deserve safe roads, not a cheap life, a good way of living. Since this revolution started, we discovered that all the Lebanese people are one hand. They are all together. They seek for all the same demands. This is something amazing because when you go and Google other revolutions, like in Iraq and other countries, people are getting killed. People are getting kidnapped and beaten, so they cannot express about anything they want. Here, it’s not the case. We dance. We put out something to eat, DJs, everything. It’s amazing. This is why I don’t want this to end.”
“I am here because I believe that the country can be better and that we as humans deserve more rights than we already have, and we deserve the basic human rights that we don’t have, and the people are demanding them. They are sick of the politicians that are in the country. They are ruining the beauty of Lebanon, so I’m glad that this is happening…I think that people are realizing that they deserve much more and that they want to fight for their own freedom and rights. It’s always been there, but one and one can’t do anything, so when you see that someone is speaking up, then you speak up, and the other speaks up, and then you create a movement and these things happen. No one thought that Lebanon would do a revolution, especially me.”
“At the beginning of the revolution, my mom was walking home alone at night, and at some point she started worrying about herself and wondering in her head ‘is it safe that I’m walking by myself,’ and then she realized that it always has been safe. The people in Lebanon, they don’t have that rage except when it comes to political parties. Once you remove that, you can remove everything. That’s one thing I’ve seen lately—people smiling. People are smiling now at each other on the street, and I haven’t seen that in ages. For me, it was always the angry man who’s always angry about everything and always honking. Right now, everyone is smiling. They’re letting the other person pass through, helping each other. That’s what I’ve seen of the Lebanese outside of Lebanon when they meet each other, but now seeing it come back here, it’s amazing. I’m very positive about it.“
“I think we’ll accomplish this peace that we think is something ideal. It’s not something that’s unreachable. It is reachable. Since all our demands are related to our rights, our social rights, our civil rights, these are the main points for all of the countries. If we have these rights, and if we achieve all this together, I think there wouldn’t be war because if it will work in a small country, then this will spread to the global. Like a family, if you had a good education with your family, like respecting the main ethics for a human being, then this will expand, and you’ll be a good citizen, and this will expand more to be a good human. If we work hard and every country achieves, then we’ll get to a point where we will all be in a peaceful world. Then, we can work more on environmental issues, and then to work more on economics and maybe preserving art and then we’d build a new era for this present.”
“I’m originally Palestinian, but I have a Jordanian passport. I was born and raised in Saudi. I lived there. I graduated from high school. I traveled to Dubai. I did my University. I graduated with master’s degree in strategic marketing. I worked a little bit in Dubai, and then I decided to come here in Lebanon just to open something. It was very expensive in Dubai, so I though here it would be a good start. I’ve got some people that I know. I thought it would be easier, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was very difficult. Here in the country, the government and the police and the ministry of health, whoever knew that I’m not Lebanese, they started harassing me from day one. It was a disaster, just because I’m not Lebanese. They don’t know if I have somebody who’s got my back from the government, so they were trying to poke me until they knew that I have someone, and then everybody started going away. That’s the deal in the country. You have to know somebody who knows somebody that can take off those people. It’s a government ruled by Mafias…Palestinians and Syrians here, there are a lot in the country, and the Lebanese say, ‘we don’t want them’ or ‘there are so many of them, we don’t want them to take our jobs,’ but in fact, the Lebanese government is taking advantage of that because the UN pays for each and every Palestinian and Syrian.”
“In every country in the world, there is corruption. Everyone who gains power, gets corrupted, almost everyone. People all over the world are realizing that they can live another life. Some are living better than others. Some are protesting for things we can’t dream of here today. In every country, there should be a revolution. In France, the revolution could be how opportunity could help human beings and not industry. Here, revolution is how we can live a better life. Every country has its own timeline, and we are way far behind others. There’s many countries like us, like Chile and other countries, but in every country, there should be a revolution for evolution, how we could evolve to better humanity because we all know that there comes a time if we carry on like this, humanity will go for an end. This is a global warning. Everyone should act to reach a better life.”
“I think that people are more aware of the environment around them and also the people that govern them. I don’t know if that’s the right word, govern, but just the people that are supposed to run things, while we build and raise children and create stuff. I think because of higher visibility, people are aware now of things that should be done, that aren’t done, and the reasons why they aren’t done. People are also aware of the amassing of wealth that is happening at the expense of everything else. When that becomes an end within itself, it can’t make anymore sense because that wealth, that one person or one group of people are just putting aside, is taking away from what is needed to be done, whether it’s environmentally or from an education point of view or from an infrastructure point of view, or from whatever. Governments often have a tendency to gravitate around that center of power and wealth, and unfortunately, they go together most of the time.“
“We are not supported by any one group. We are all of the Lebanese. Coming together is taking us to the right path to opening our eyes to racism and religious people. Whenever a war happens in Lebanon, it doesn’t just happen to one side. It happens to all of Lebanon—Christian, Muslim, Sunni, Shite, Druze, Atheists. We are all one. When the bomb will come down on us, it will not choose one of us. It will choose anyone. The good thing about the movement is that you will find all of the religions, and no one talks about no one.”
“The fact that there are so many movements all over the world is an obvious demise of the capitalist regime that governs the banks and the economic system itself. It manifests in different ways. I think we already are coming together. The enemy cannot hide itself anymore. It just defined itself throughout the world. It doesn’t hurt to exchange experiences on how we can have an attentive system, not necessarily communist, not necessarily purely socialist, but something a bit more concerned about human welfare. We can’t expect new things unless we have new processes on the ground working together.”
“If we have a global community, people would connect to each other, around education, medicine, and our lifestyles would be better. I would know you, and you will know me. The communication would be better. Even diseases would drop down. War would drop down. All people will finally communicate with each other. This ice will break down, and we’ll live in peace.”
“I don’t think it’s over for a lot of the other struggles, even those that started in 2011 and others around the world. I don’t think revolutions can be evaluated over a decade or two decades…I think there is an increasing global awareness that capitalism as a system is not serving anyone, and I think the reaction to the rise of the right all over the world is also a very positive thing. There is an amazing solidarity across countries. The similarities across movements is very surprising and, at the same time, not so surprising because you can imagine that there are groups like ours all over the world who want the same thing. That’s not very farfetched. I feel like even though there are a lot of similarities, we do need to be aware of the specificities of each context. This is very important. I feel that each of us can focus on our own country for now, while expressing solidarity with each other, of course. I can’t tell someone in Chile what the way forward is, and they can’t tell me what the way forward is. All we can do is send love to each other across continents.”