Lebanon | 23 november 2020 | by Pim Gerritsen0
‘A will for change’
PAX in Lebanon: A year after the revolution
On the 17th of October, anti-government protests in Lebanon marked a year since hundreds of thousands of people across Lebanon took the streets and demonstrated against the political elite, corruption and mismanagement of their country. A lot has happened since. The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting Lebanon hard, with a drastic spike in cases over the past months. An enormous explosion took place in the Beirut port on August 4th, and the city, and Lebanon in general, is still recovering from it. All of this is happening in the midst of a political and economic crisis, and the living conditions of Lebanese of all social classes and all communities residing in Lebanon is deteriorating.
A year ago, PAX was in Lebanon and stood with partners and friends during the revolution. Now, a year later, Line Rajab, working for the PAX Middle East team, is back in her home town, catching up with PAX partners, friends, family and activists.
Hi Line. You’ve made it out of quarantine and have spent time with friends and partners in Lebanon. How was your week? And did you visit the site of the explosion?
Yes, I went there. I’ll share some pictures with you. It’s really shocking to see, but everything else is as well. Everyone is in a state of post- or ongoing apocalypse. It’s very heavy and sad to see how bad the situation is on all levels. The energy is extremely low, the most prominent activists are extremely depressed and hopeless, and I have no words to soothe anyone. Plus there is corona on top of everything else, that makes it all the more stressful and absurd. It’s a lot like the Sisi phenomenon in Egypt.
One of your pictures says: my state did this. What is currently happening to make sure that the right people are held accountable for what happened?
Not much is being done at the moment. It’s very evident that those who should be held accountable are the ones conducting investigations. While many senior level government representatives (including the president) were aware of the risk and potential explosion, only low-level port employees are being investigated, let alone charged with the responsibility for the negligence (or worse) that has led to the devastation of half of the capital. Meanwhile, regular fires at the site of the explosion have indicated that some officials are burying evidence, making sure that their names won’t be directly associated with the blast, if an international investigation were to happen. The Lebanese people have zero faith in the ongoing investigation. They’ve had their assets and life savings stolen by banks and the government since the beginning of the economic crisis, so how can they expect anything positive to come out of the government’s enforced reign over its citizens?
It sounds like people are in the midst of despair and hopelessness. Have you seen any hopeful signs?
My visit to our partner Tiro in the south of Lebanon was inspiring and hopeful. I was there during one of the rehearsals of a young group of Palestinians from one of the camps. It was amazing to see and hear from them how important this space is for them. The availability of these spaces, free and accessible to everyone, is so important. Especially if you’re Palestinian in Lebanon, and essentially without any civil rights.
What else do you have planned for your stay? And based on your visit and talks with friends and partners, is there anything that you think we as PAX should pay extra attention to in the near future?
The rest of my visit will be dedicated to spending quality time with my friends and family, especially since I don’t know when I’ll be back in Lebanon again given the current international situation. While despair and depression are always looming on the horizon, my circle of people are still able to enjoy themselves and indulge in what the city has to offer (food, really good food, and company). I don’t like to call it resilience, but it’s definitely some form of survival instinct that is still bringing people together across Lebanon. I hope that with time, this energy and compassion will transform again into a will for change. It definitely won’t be easy, considering how visibly entrenched government authorities are. Many unnecessary sacrifices will have to be made, and this is the hardest part. We as PAX have the role to ensure the smoothest transition to this state of mind, making sure people in Lebanon know they aren’t alone, that there are organizations and people out there ready to fight for them at the international level, always amplfying Lebanese voices and making sure the international community is by their side. Which, unfortunately, is not currently the case.
Thanks Line. Happy you got to spend time with family and friends as well. Take care and see you soon back in the Netherlands.