The Time is Now – Oslo, Norway (March 2020)
I was happy to share my story on covering the #Lebanonprotests, the start of the movement and how everything went down, how I even picked a career in journalism. The Oslo women’s right initiative, the Nobel Peace Center and Civita were kind enough to host me alongside an amazing group of women. Below is a copy of my prepared speech; of course I went a bit off script, just for the fun of it.
I will take you back to when I think my story started, a seven-year-old Luna in Beirut, born at the end of a brutal civil war, my father took me walking by the “Cornish” or seaside. It was a usual afternoon stroll for us. One time as we approached an alley, we saw an army check point, there four officers standing beneath a flag that was not Lebanese. It was the Syrian flag, my memories of that day are vivid, I can recall the smell, the silhouette of the old building and how my father told me to look away – he instructed me in French “On ne regarde pas, on march, on continue” – “we do not look Luna, we walk by and move on”.
The building was used by the Syrian Army to arrest, torture and extract information from Lebanese citizens, any citizen who dares speak out against the Syrian government who was at that time a major political influencer in Lebanon, It was the type of post-war influence that the Syrian government practiced in Lebanon. I lived my childhood near that building.
My interest in Syria started at a very young age, I was the Lebanese kid whose parents would not allow out of the house alone, because a detention center was located minutes away. I was a child of war, a war that I had not lived, but that influenced every part of my life even though it was over in 1990, as I was born. This interest remained with me through-out big symbolic moments such as the assassination of our prime minister Al Hariri and its aftermath. We knew that things have changed forever in Lebanon.
I did not at that time understand the politics of sects or what they meant to us, we don’t come from a conservative background, when I like to go to the church, I go, when I like to do Ramadan traditions, I do, and when I like to be an atheist, I can be. I was lucky enough to be grow up in a small family, with the same beliefs. But that is not the case for those exploiting our differences.
In the wake of the assassination, I was exposed to my first protest, the cedar revolution.it was aimed to highlight how the influence of the Syrian regime in Lebanon has crossed the lines of direct interference. I lived through many other major events such as the Israeli war on Lebanon and have been exposed to many more protests. But it was the slogans of that revolution in 2005 that have made me realise I want to do more than just protest.
So, I wrote in my dairy about my impressions of the political changes and what I disliked about my country, the pages were filled not of names of crushes and famous singers but of issues and angst that was not directed at my parents. I joined other citizens on the streets, we were warned about carrying our own flag, in my own country, I was angry and …I felt that I should tell the world.
I carried that sensation with me as I grew up and in taking decisions of what I would like to be, a person who sees injustice and tells the world about it, or at least when I started…to tell the Lebanese and Arab speaking communities about it. In other words, am a journalist who writes about the Arab spring, violations of human rights and freedom of speech in the Middle East and North Africa.
This how I came to be a witness, a participant and a documenter of the protests in Beirut 2019, let me tell you verbally how they are; these protests sprang up as a response to the increase of taxes and ironically…those taxes were meant to be imposed on WhatsApp calls. The people went out against corruption of the government, they chant “kelon ya3ni kelon” All means all, the demand for the government to leave was soon accompanied with protests against the sectarian structure and its conflicts. Our prime minister resigned but it was not enough to convince the protestors that change can happen.
And here the shift started where protests became a way of life, you would think that they are parties, picnics, cultural activities, events and a vibrant art scene. I had been abroad when the protests started, I left months back out of frustration and despair, I returned to this diverse amazing community of protestors, I took my camera and spoke to them. Talking and being with them, made me want to remain in Beirut and cover the revolution, to tell the stories of those young people and their aspirations. There aren’t many words to describe the feeling of complete belonging and being proud of your community as it stands for its rights.
I wish I can convey it to you simply but the only words that come to mind, is being high on freedom and hope. Sadly, that took a wrong turn and despite tremendous effort to keep the non-violence and peace, violence took root and spread out. I was crushed, it took me time to adjust to this new reality where protestors are tear gassed, water boarded and arrested for their demands. The army went to the streets, established checked points to prevent protestors from gathering, but our state always underestimated our creativity and resilience.
Although the situation is not good, banks are closed, bakeries don’t often have bread and the citizens are suffering, but they are also opening their doors to give free food, individuals in their own capacities stepped up to help protestors continue taking to the street. I came from Beirut few days ago, with another threat looming over our heads, but protestors are still in the streets, the flame of hope is there…and we know that it will be a long road for change but it is a start and even if we disappear from the head lights, it will not end with that and I will continue to be on streets, documenting and writing the stories. Not as a frustrated teenager who finds many things to dislike about her country, but as a Lebanese journalist who is proud of her fellow citizens.
And now I have to answer myself as I questioned about sharing my story with you when I received the invitation. Does it really matter? I think it does.