The attempts at reframing the Lebanese Revolution as a political play that is controlled and ruled by certain parties, whether foreign or local, have been thus far successful—if not in convincing citizens of such proclamations, then in leaving a voice in the back of their minds that constantly questions this movement.
Given that most previous movements throughout the region’s history were politicized, such suspicions are understandable and, to a certain extent, reasonable. But how accurate are they? To answer this question, I decided to take the case of Tripoli and interview individuals who are taking part in organizing the protests in that city. But before delving into who the organizers are and what they aim to achieve, let’s take a look at the scene in Tripoli and the speculations made about its protests.
The rumors and conspiracy theories
“Those who have worked at any Hallab Sweets branch know that the management wouldn’t even give their workers a date fruit on a Ramadan iftar, so why would they donate sweets to 10k protesters?” That’s what some Lebanese University students told me at the university’s tent in Abdul- Hamid Karami Square (aka Sahat Al-Nour).
There seems to be an agreement among that group of students that the large amount of donations made to protesters in Tripoli through the organizations managing the protests raises a lot of questions. Sahat Al-Nour, the main locale of protests in Tripoli, was transformed over night. Tents were held around the Square, surrounding buildings were painted and decorated with revolutionary themes, and a field hospital was set up near the protests.
Yet, what is raising the most controversy are those who are controlling the sound system, especially since they broke into a neighboring abandoned building with the approval of the military and transferred their loud speakers to the first floor’s balcony (since it overlooks the square and the protesters) while remaining protected by the government.
Moreover, that unknown group has taken control over the whole building and is making decisions such as who gets access to the building and who speaks to the public. Many protestors have argued that the speakers are sometimes being biased towards certain political parties. One Lebanese University student, who preferred to remain anonymous, attacked those who controlled the sound system for the last few days, namely Rami Ichrakye, Fawzi El Ferri, Samer Debliz, and Qasim Siddik, accusing them of serving the Kataeb and Lebanese Forces.
The Organizers’ Stance
Ali Tleiss, a volunteer with Hurrass Al-Madina (City Guards), confirmed that the donations received so far are indeed substantial. However, the sources of each of them are traceable.
Hurras Al-Madina, the largest present force organizing the protests in Tripoli, has been working independently in the last few years to uncover corruption in the city. The organization which only had 20 or so members for the past few years acquired hundreds of volunteers in the first few days of the revolution as a spontaneous reaction and act of support to the movement.
Currently, the organization’s efforts are concentrated on regulating the protests and preventing politically-affiliated individuals from disturbing the movement. Moreover, the organization has been receiving food donations from various restaurants and citizens and in various quantities since the beginning of the revolution. As Tleiss put it, “people can only see the beautiful revolting face of Tripoli, which leads to suspicions. However, if they could see what is behind it- a massive number of very small contributions, they will understand that there is no one side or party fueling it.”
I also spoke to a number of university students who are taking part in organizing discussions and road blockings. Unsurprisingly, they witnessed the process of decorating the square and confirmed that it was done by unaffiliated individuals, like Mohamad Abrash, an artist from Bab Al-Tabbanah. Many tents were bought through the collection of small donations from university professors who are attempting to mobilize their students. Even Hallab’s surprising donation would be less so if we remember that the company had to close one of its branches earlier this year due to the falling economic situation which has heavily impacted it.
Finally, I was able to enter the abandoned building where those who are controlling the one sound system in the square are. Ahmad Bekish and Rabih Al-Zain, organizers in Thawret Al-Mahroumin (Revolution of the Deprived), turned out to have main control of the building. Thawrat Al-Mahroumin is a movement against the current regime that started a few months ago in Tripoli. Their demands are those of the wider public, and are concerned with the judicial system, healthcare issues, and taxes. Just like protestors in Riad Al-Solh made The Egg a hub for experts and the community, Thawrat Al Mahroumin aimed to create a hub for themselves and the wider body of protestors in that building.
Nevertheless, being dangerous and ill-equipped on the inside, the building could only hold a limited number of people rather than crowds. As such, in cooperation with the military, the movement organizers are holding checks at the building’s entry, and only allowing university professors, organizations’ representatives, and journalists to enter.
The two organizers admitted that the stage did deliver political messages endorsing certain parties, like Al Jama’a Al Islamiya at some points. However, they revealed that such messages were errors and slips that happened as the movement tried to be inclusive and offer the platform to all groups who wanted to speak up.
Throughout our interview, the organizers emphasized their inclusiveness. They made it clear that their platform is a platform for the people and that anyone who wants to deliver a message can do so by approaching them. As Al-Zain put it, “we are trying to make Tripoli a city for all the people every night”.
It is true that there are groups and parties that are attempting to exploit the revolution and politicize it. However, that is not to be confused with the current democratic and people-made face of the revolution and the revolutionaries. Only with consistency and unity, will we be able to keep that face.