Pornography of Suffering: The Lebanese Media version

Your wants, desires, needs and wishes
Will be duly noted
Processed, filed, and cataloged, labeled, and encoded
Turned into sitcom dialog and advertising slogans

We’ve got a box to put in your brain
Hard wired for downloading
All the secrets and the mysteries
You’ve been selfishly withholding

The dreams and hopes that once were yours
Will now be collected and dispersed
So the first to come with cash to spend
Will be the first one served ~ Tracy Chapman, Hard Wired.

They are on the look, trying to grasp their hands on any topic that will raise their “TV share”. You see them bustling around, looking for the next “sexy” topic to get a “scoop” and sell more ads.

They often operate with the mentality of “An explosion? Where? I need to get there quickly, talk to the people who are bleeding before they clear the scene,” or “You know a woman who was beaten by her husband? That is prime time news material. You have to connect me with her and share her cause with the world.”

While it is important to highlight social causes and inform the people of what is going on, it must be done with the ethics, focusing on the subject first and foremost. Quiet often, we see factors of trauma, safety of the subject, privacy, respect for the individual, justice and beneficence completely neglected for the sake of gaining pairs of eyes hooked on the screen.

Of course not all journalists and TV hosts are the same, so this is in no means trying to generalize and include the few ethical ones out there with the majority of the fame-mongers, but the fact is, not only in Lebanon, but all over, we are seeing media and TV channels that have no respect for their subjects nor their viewers.

They simply want to sell ads, gain TV shares, regardless of whether they are treading on private matters, making them public and digging deeper wounds and harming lives.

This is what I call pornography! Why? Simply because pornography is the mere idea of making someone’s, or a group’s, most private interaction and making it public. Real sexual pornography is even better than the pornography of suffering, for at least it is performed by professional actors who willingly take part and know in advance the consequences of their theatrical performance.

The pornography of suffering on the other hand, abuses real people with real issues, convinces them that it is trying to help them, makes them believe that going live in front of thousands or millions is actually beneficial for them, and then after the suffering is exacerbated, and the trauma is induced, it leaves them hanging, to suffer on their own, for they have it all on tape, copyrighted and ready to go viral.

This is happening every day, and today’s pornographic director of human suffering is Zaven Kouyoumdjian, on Future TV.

Before I offer my comments, I will let you watch one minute and thirty eight seconds

Many of you will be shocked to see the young man talk to his mother in such a disgraceful manner, or to see him kick his mother on the head!

Yes, we all agree on that, but that is up to the young man and his own moral values. We do not know the full story and the nature of the relationship between the mother and her son.

What should be shocking, is that a TV presenter abused the suffering of a woman and her relationship with her son.

Doesn’t the presenter have a responsibility and ethics standards to abide by?

Didn’t he put the woman at risk?

Why would he bring a young man, unprepared, stir up his emotions, confront him with the mother when they are not on good terms to start with?

All this to sell ads, to get more fame, to go viral on social networks. All this for greed, for personal gains, with no respect whatsoever for people’s privacy, with complete disregard for the impact of the such an enforced encounter in front of thousands of viewers.

Pornography of suffering, taking the private suffering of people’s lives, putting it on stage, provoking it and broadcasting to millions.

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Adel Nehmeh

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I’m coming home mom and dad. Don’t let them scare you!

“Mom, dad! I am planning to come spend at least a month in Lebanon this summer. I am so excited to see you.”

Mother : “Ya habibi! We miss you so much. I cannot wait to hug you and smell you”

Father: “Now this is good news. Finally something that brightness up our lives amidst all this pessimism we are engulfed with.”

Myself: “Yeah, now that I am back in school, I get to have longer summer vacations, so I get to spend more time with you and dad. I cannot wait to go to the beach, do some camping and hiking, and travel around the country with you!”

Mother: “Oh my dear! We were expecting you to visit this summer. Your dad and I were actually discussing this earlier, and I think your dad has something to tell you!”

Myself: “Oh oh! I can sense a serious tone! What is going on dad?”

Father: ” No need to worry my son. It is just, as you know, the situation in Lebanon is getting very scary and insecure. It is no longer political, it is terrorism and you never know when the next suicide attack will take place or where. Don’t get me wrong, you are our ONLY son and there is nothing in the world that we want than to have you among us, but we are worried about you. You are a very active and social individual, you always want to spend time outdoors, travel around the country, and most importantly you are always politically and civically active.”

Myself: “What are you trying to say dad?”

Father: “What I am trying to say is that we are worried. We were thinking that it might be worth sacrificing and maybe considering you not visiting this summer!”

Mother (jumping in to absorb the gravity of the statement): “Every single day since August 20, 2009 and I long for you by my side. I wake up and I open Skype and I cannot hug the pillow before I listen to your voice. There is nothing I want more than to hug you and have you next to me, filling my eyes with joy and my nose with your sweet smell. It is just that I am scared. I am worried about you abroad on your own, but I am more scared to have you roaming the streets here. I see the tears and the sorrow of those mothers on the TV screens after every bombing, and I do not want to experience their pain. I cannot stand the pain and worry to know that you are driving or walking on one of those booby-trapped streets. I know I will be living in fear every single moment of every single day when you will not be close to my side, safe inside the house.”

Myself: ” Mom, don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”

Mother (crying): “We only have you and as much as it hurts to have you far, we at least know that you are safe. I know you think I am exaggerating, but this is the way I feel. I am afraid, worried, scared, whatever you want to call it. You are not a kid anymore for us to restrict your movement and social activity, and this is why we are worried. This country has stolen you from us and put you thousands of kilometers away. That is enough sorrow to live with. We are not ready for it to steal you again, maybe this time permanently.

Father (interrupting my mother’s emotional eruption): “We are worried my son, just like every other parent in Lebanon. We go on with our daily lives not knowing that to expect. Future has become so short-sighted that it does not extend beyond getting back home safe at night. We would be glad to have you with us if you decide to come, but we needed to let you know how we feel!”

Myself: “I completely understand your fears. The last thing I want to do is to make your life more stressful. I would still like to visit and spend some time with you this summer. No need to worry. I will be careful.”

This is an actual conversation that took place between me and my parents last week. Of course it did not take place in English, but the core of the narrative, the emotions and fears were all expressed.

What makes caring and loving parents to get to the point to tell their only child that they do not want him to visit after a year of being away from them? The same two parents that call every day to check on their son, now a 27-year old man. The same parents who almost 5 years ago were opposed to the whole idea of their only son leaving the country for 2 years to pursue post-graduate education. The same parents who learned how to operate a desktop computer, a rapid uncontrollable mouse pointer, a smart phone, a tablet and all the social media to stay in touch with their son abroad. The same parents who jumped on an airplane for the first time ever, going through security checkpoints across two continents and interrogated in 2 different unfamiliar foreign languages,  to attend their son’s graduation and spend time with him knowing that he could not visit that year due to starting a new job.

These two parents, like many other Lebanese parents, have conquered various civil wars, technology barriers, distances and physical separation only to be defeated by the fear of their children’s safety.

My parents may be over-emotional and exaggerating a little bit, but I know for sure they are not the only ones. Lebanese parents are now, more than ever, encouraging children to move abroad.

This sentiment that troubles Lebanese parents’ hearts and minds is not limited to a particular sect or geographical region. While politics may be dividing the people, the fear is uniting them across regions and religions. 

It certainly was not easy for my parents to utter those words, asking me to reconsider my decision to visit. It is not easy for any parent to tell their children to stay away, at least temporarily. What is also not easy, is for those of us who are safe abroad, to know that we have parents, friends, brothers and sisters who are in danger’s way every single day. We also worry about the safety of our beloved, as we watch the news and follow the hashtags. If I am Lebanese, I might as well share and experience the fears that the Lebanese at home go through every day.

I will be visiting home this summer. I will be spending quality time with my parents, my friends and relatives. I will not allow the fundamentalists and the corrupt politicians to steal from me the opportunity to be united with my family.

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Adel Nehmeh

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Posted in Being young in Lebanon, Lebanon visits, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The role of males in the advocacy for gender equality: Lessons from Wadjda and Abdullah

WadjdaWadjda (Waad Mohammed), to the left, is not your typical feminist. She is a lanky 10-year-old with long dark hair, a loosely-hanging scarf, big eyes and a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors. She memorizes the Koran and wins the prize for best recitation at her school. 

AbdullahAbdullah (Abdullrahman Al-Gohani ), to the left, is definitely not a feminist. He, also a 10-year-old lad, wears the traditional Saudi outfit and head cover, considers the long twirled mustache as a symbol of manhood, and laughs at Wadjda’s dreams of ever riding a bicycle in Saudi Arabia. Abdullah is nothing but a young innocent boy who may simply has a crush on Wadjda. He could care less about the structural violence that his female peers might face and the repression they encounter daily at schools.

Wadjda and Abdullah are not feminists, but they are the most inspiring and competent advocates for women rights and gender equality you may ever encounter. They may be fictional characters in an inspirational motion picture, but they are nonetheless depictions of human realities and individuals.

In case you are not aware, I am talking about the two toddlers from the first Saudi film to be directed by a woman. Wadjda is Saudi Arabia’s first feature film directed by Haifaa Al Mansour and Saudi Arabia’s first submission to the Oscars. If you live in a country where the film is prohibited, click here for entire movie (author endorses link only in countries where film is prohibited).

A lot has been said about Haifaa’s achievement and Wadjda’s character and what they represent for gender equality in general, and women rights in Saudi Arabia to be more specific.

In this article, I would like to highlight a much-neglected factor, a character that has not been recognized and pushed forward as a role model for Arab young men. I am talking about the character of Abdullah.

If it were not for Abdullah, Wadjda would probably had not been able to ride the bike. This is not to say that females are incapable without men, but more so to highlight the power that could result in their collaboration rather than their separation. Throughout the film, Wadjda wins over two male characters who play a crucial role in making her dream of riding a bicycle eventually come true. The first, although minimal, is the shopkeeper who saves the bike for her even when she clearly has no way of ensuring she can pay for it. The second, playing a much more significant role, is Abdullah.

Abdullah is her friend, secret admirer, bodyguard, problem-solver and race contender. Wadjda recognizes that she lives in a male-dominated society where men, even young lads, have more influence in society and already have the upper hand in the equation. Instead of competing against those who can assist and challenge their own authority, Wadjda appeals to them using her mesmerizing smile, her charisma and her persuasive character. She wins them over and asks them to help her overcome the obstacles, instead of becoming the obstacles themselves.

Abdullah is the one who shows up when Wadjda is being harassed by the sexually repressed migrant worker at the construction site. Whereas Wadjda is looked down upon by other boys and peers, Abdullah shows admiration for Wadjda’s pluck and individuality. He applauds her personality traits not exactly encouraged by others around them. He acknowledges that Wadjda’s determination won’t be crushed, and that she will do everything in her power to achieve her goal, so he decides to be her ally, and her supporter. He tags along on her trip to intimidate the Taxi driver, and uses his male authority and privileged social status to threaten the immigrant worker so that her mother would be able to go to work. Abdullah agrees to bring his bike to the roof for Wadjda to learn discretely, after a smart manipulation on behalf of Wadjda of course. Abdullah is the one who installs the two additional bike tires for Wadjda to learn, and later removes them and holds Wadjda as she adjusts to the balance on two wheels. Abdullah helps Wadjda perfect her riding day after day on the roof. He even offers to give her his bike when Wadjda’s ambitions to buy her own bike shatter after she involuntarily donates the Koran recitation prize money to Palestine. In the end, Abdullah celebrates Wadjda’s victory and joins her on her first bike ride in public as they race on the streets.

In short, Abdullah is not threatened by Wadjda’s defiant character, but rather inspired by and appealed to it. Together they were able to overcome the obstacles that the society has put in front of Wadjda.

Abdullah is not supposed to steal the spotlights from Wadjda, but as I said earlier, his character has been much neglected. After all ,it is Wadjda’s determination and power of persuasion that enables Abdullah to play this role.

The story of Wadjda and Abdullah is not to be taken lightly, as that of two toddlers in love wanting to ride bicycles together. It is a symbolic example of what the fight for gender equality and women rights should be.

Think of what Haifaa Al Mansour was able to achieve. Would she have been able to achieve it in the Saudi society without relying on men who supported her vision and dreams, who believed in equal opportunities and rights for women. Haifaa Al Mansour knows very well that Saudi Arabia is segregated, that women are not supposed to be outside, especially mingling with men. She says:

“…whenever we would shoot our outdoor scenes, I would be in a van, and I would sit with a walkie-talkie and a monitor … It was tough; it was very frustrating to be in that confined space. .”

When asked why she did not work more publicly, as a statement of standing up for women rights, she confesses:

“It wasn’t part of the statement I was trying to make. I wasn’t trying to clash with people; I was trying to make a film. And I know people, if they see me, they will get offended, or people will come question [us] and try to stop us. I don’t want to provoke people. I’m making a film in Saudi Arabia — I’m a woman — about a young girl who wants a bicycle. That’s enough. I don’t have to push it.”

Haifaa Al Mansour, just like her juvenile character, recognizes that she needs allies and not additional foes. They both recognize that their success and progress depends on winning over their supporters from the other, not opposite, gender.

And this is where us, specifically Arab men, play a role in joining the ranks of advocates for gender equality and women rights.

Forget about the stereotypes of feminism, defiance of male authority, deconstruction of traditions, redefining gender roles and all that radical talk that most advocates for women rights and gender equality are opposed to in the first place.

We cannot fight for the women, but we can choose to be their allies. We should not be threatened by their defiance, subversive methods and struggle. Their liberation will only empower us to become stronger.

We are part of the equation, whether we like it or not. We do have some power in this system, whether we use it or not. Sitting on the sidelines, cheering from behind the benches, puts us on the side of the unjust system. The struggle for gender equality and equal rights for women, is part of our own struggle for social justice and equal opportunities in corrupt and feudal systems.

We as men have a role to play, and strategic female advocates for women rights should know this by now. Wadjda, the 10-year-old recognized this and so should every hardcore rebellious feminists out there.

Be a leader, not a follower! There is plenty of work to be done and positions to lead from.

In my country, women are dying in their own homes, on the hands of their own husbands, with the compliance of the society and the reluctance of the legislative powers in the parliament.

If I remain silent, I am a partner in crime. 

KAFA MArch 8 MarchOn march 8, 2014 you have the opportunity to voice your support for women rights. KAFA, Lebanon’s leading advocate for the end of domestic violence, is organizing a peaceful march from the Museum to the Justice Palace in Beyrouth. You can start there, and do not be afraid to be labeled as a feminist, after all you cannot be a meninist without being a feminist. Feminism is only a synonym for masculinity.

 

In whatever country you reside in, I am sure there is a role for you to play.

If you want to read more about role of men in the advocacy for women rights and gender equality, check this list below.

Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue By Jackson Katz, TEDx
I’m a male feminist. No, seriously By John Brougher, CNN
Roles of Men with Feminism and Feminist Theory By Brian Klocke, National Organization of Men Against Sexism

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Adel Nehmeh

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Posted in civil society in Lebanon, Lebanese Changing Lebanon, political activism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lebanese cabinet up to a rough start

Come on you guys!!!

You had one simple job, and guess what, all you had to do was to stand still and keep your mouth shut!!

You even managed to make a scene out of that!

In case you are not aware what I am referring to, our newly-formed long-awaited savior cabinet have made it to international news as the cabinet that alters photos using photoshops.

Yes, the Lebanese government has used photoshop to produce their official cabinet photo. According to the Associated Press, you can see in the photo below that the first shot was taken with Berri and the ministers present, after which Berri who was headed for Kuwait had to leave for the airport. When the missing ministers arrived, the group stood again for a new picture without Berri, who was then added by Photoshop.

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Why does it matter?

“Adding elements to a photograph is entirely unacceptable and is in clear violation of AP’s standards,” said AP vice president and director of photography Santiago Lyon. This is why after learning of the photograph’s manipulation on Sunday, the AP removed the image from its archives and issued an advisory to customers not to use it.

What did the Presidential media advisor have to say about this?

“So what?” was Adib Abi Akl’s response when asked to comment. The presidential media adviser continued:” The photo has been sent to the media, it is your choice to use them or not.”

Come on you guys! We have waited 11 months for you to get your act together, couldn’t you have organized your schedules a little bit more and saved us this rough start and negative media coverage globally.

We can’t even ask you to cheat and do a good job cheating anymore!

We are not expecting you to suddenly become the world’s most ethical and honorable politicians overnight, but as Lebanese we do expect you to be good at avoiding getting caught!

You guys, and lady, are up for a rough start. What is a photo after all. Don’t let that demotivate you, you had a lot of bad guys to catch!

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Adel Nehmeh

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Grants up to $25,000 for youth-led organizations from UN Urban Youth Fund

Do you know any youth-led organization who is doing exemplary work and could use some funding?

The UN-Habitat Urban Youth Fund will for the sixth year in a row provide grants to projects led by young people aged 15-32 years who are piloting innovative approaches to employment, good urban governance, shelter, secure tenure and risk rehabilitation. Small development initiatives are eligible for grants up to $25,000. 

The Fund aims to assist youth-led organizations in designing and implementing projects that will contribute to sustainable urbanization in the developing world. Furthermore, the Fund seeks to gain insight from successful grassroots youth projects and create greater awareness of the need for youth mainstreaming in development policies and strategies.

This year’s call for proposals will pilot an interesting new component of the Urban Youth Fund focusing on empowerment and gender equality. Increased gender equality and the empowerment of adolescent girls and young women are essential for building equitable, sustainable and prosperous cities in line with the new urban agenda. This requires the involvement of young women and men in promoting gender equality to build the urban future we want.

UN-Habitat invites young people based in cities or towns from the developing world to apply for grants from the fund. The application will open from February 15 to April 15 2014. More information and details are available at www.unhabitat.org/youthfund.

Background: 

Globally, 85 per cent of the world’s young people live in developing countries, where they often comprise a large portion of their communities. An increasing number of young people around the world are growing up in cities – especially in the fast-growing cities of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America. In many cities across the African continent, more than 70 per cent of inhabitants are under the age of 30. Yet these young people have few resources available to improve their own living environment. This is a major oversight as there are many youth-led initiatives in slums and squatter settlements in urgent need of financial support to develop their communities.

UN-Habitat embraces the belief that youth are a solution for sustainable urban development; the 21st session of the UN-Habitat Governing Council recognized this and proposed the fund with the objective to advance the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the Habitat Agenda.

The fund has so far awarded grants to 238 projects led by young people from all over the world. 

In his message on International Model United Nations Conference Geneva, January 2014, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi stated that that it is necessary for the Youth to be involved in economic and social development.

“This is why we need you, the youngest generation the world has ever known, to partner with us in our work; Use your power as voters and as consumers, to lead positive change and build a sustainable and equitable future for all.”

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Adel Nehmeh

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How my blog post inspired Al Jadeed to advocate for youth representation in Lebanese cabinet

On February 10, 2014 I published a blog post asking for youth representation in the Lebanese cabinet. If you have not read it yet, make sure to read it here.

On February 10, the new cabinet had not been formed, so I had went through all the ministers of the previous cabinet, listing their ages and calculating the average age of the cabinet, to make a point of old our ministers are, and how the country needs young faces that inspire hope.

On February 16, I saw a news report prepared by Rachel Karam for the AlJadeed News (New TV news) that advocated for the same demands. Rachel Karam went  through all the ministers in the newly-formed cabinet and calculated the average age of the cabinet, demanding the representation of the Lebanese youth.

Of course, I am not bringing this up to show that I have invented the gun powder or came up with a new approach, neither to point out that I have exclusivity to this methodology, but to express my gratitude to the traditional news outlets who are paying attention to bloggers, and the young defiant reporters and journalists like Rachel Karam who bring forward the voices across social media to the viewers of the domestic tubes.

I sure hope we can raise the voice for more youth representation among our ministers and elected officials.

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Adel Nehmeh

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“NO” & “THE SQUARE”: Lessons for non-violent social movements

The Notre Dame KROC Institute, where I am pursuing my M.A. in International Peace Studies, sponsored the ScreenPeace film festival, that screened five critically acclaimed motion pictures that raise issues of justice and peace.

Of the four films that I attended, I felt the need to urge to reflect on the two which discuss national social movements. “NO“, a work of fiction, is based on the very real, historic televised ad campaign to get Chileans to vote dictator Augusto Pinochet out of power in the national plebiscite of 1988 (Pinochet’s party had an opposing ‘Yes’ campaign). “THE SQUARE“, chronicles the most recent most followed social movement in Egypt between early 2011 and late 2013.

This is not a movie review, but more so a comparison of the two campaigns and the lesson to be picked up for all the young, ‘eager beaver’ social activists around the world, and hopefully Lebanon. As I was watching those two documentaries, I could only reflect my own experiences of social activism, protests, civil society involvement and blogging. I had flashbacks of the massive rallies against the Syrian Forces in 2004-2005, the “I Love Life” campaign, and the culmination in the “March 14″ protest and political coalition. I also remembered the various smaller-scale protests for women rights, against extension of the parliament term, and for civil marriage. All these were smaller scale and were not able to gather more than a thousand persons at the most, peaching only to the choir.

So what do the two films have to tell us? I will start with the one that discusses the most recent movement, one that is so far deemed in progress, by some even a failure.

“THE SQUARE” puts the viewer in the middle of the action, capturing moments as they evolve. It takes us through the eyes of the “revolutionaries” whose lives and activism are chronicled for more than two years. The film is able to transfer to the audience the idealism, passion, and courage at the early day of the protests, the horrors and shocks of the crackdowns, the euphoria of the Mubarak ousting, and the frustration and polarization between the young liberal activists on one side and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Army on the other side. Watching the events unfold throughout the whole 95 minutes, and listening to two Egyptians who lived through some of the events and were present at the discussion that followed, here is what I think social activists need to come out with:

  1. Collective action is powerful: The January 25 movement, an off-shoot of “We are all Khaled Said“, was not simply an overnight achievement. Egyptians had been rallying for more than ten years by the time the revolution was able to reach such a level. Quite often, we become cynical, lacking any belief in the power of the people, thus losing hope in making any changes to an unjust or corrupt system. Well, there you go. If you have forgotten the successful movements of the past, you have not one but two, successive movements that toppled two presidents over the course of two years, with the third probably on its way.
  2. Media could be your ally: “THE SQUARE” does a good job in showing how the activists established “mosireen“, which focused on collecting video footage of the atrocities of the regime agains the somewhat-peaceful protesters, exposing the brutality of the police and winning over the “third party“, both locally and internationally. Ghandi himself was very aware of the need for media, this is why he made sure that Webb Miller would cover the Dharsana Salt Work march and let the world know how the Indians marched into their beating. Quite often, as young social activists defiant to established corrupt systems and manipulative media, we treat the media outlets as our enemies. Most often they are, but media itself is a weapon that could leverage out movements and without it, the impact and outreach will be very limited. More about the power of media in the analysis of “NO”.
  3. The need for compromises and political representation: “THE SQUARE” seems to glorify the action on the street. It shows how the early days of the movement were marked by inexperience and insularity, how Egyptians came together full of frustration with lack of clean water, proper sanitation, dignity and employment. All these factors, in addition to tens of others, allowed the movement to attract millions who took the streets and pressured Husni Mubarak to surrender power. After Mubarak’s fall, the activists in Tahrir Square failed to carry the success of their movement beyond Tahrir square and translate it into political gains. They hesitated to endorse Mohamad Al Baradei as their representative, they failed to collaborate with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), a political party well-established who was able to seize the opportunity and monopolize power later on. Their demands and aspirations were simply too pure for any politician to represent them. This is why, in the fild, Khaled and Ahmed express how neither the MB nor the army represent the Egypt they want, and at that the end of the film, you see Ahmed proclaiming: “We shall take the streets again, and again, and again, until our demands are met.” This is the pitfall, most activists fall for, including myself. Without political power and representation, without negotiating with the opponent, how does one translate collective action into changes at the structural and policy level?
  4.  Be aware of polarization and division after the fall of the symbol: In a discussion with a few Egyptian activists, they all agreed that at the early stages of the movement, Egyptians took the streets to ask for clean water, for life with dignity, for employment. People were dying out of hunger and epidemics. Mubarak was the symbol of their suffering, and just like any other movement, the symbol becomes the focus of the movement itself. After Mubarak’s fall, the activists in Tahrir Square failed to engage anyone who did not fit their young, cosmopolitan and liberal profile. The pluralistic ideals that brought the Egyptians together in early 2011, were replaced by a poisonous atmosphere of polarization and distrust between allies of yesterday, the MB and young activists. This ultimately resulted in re-establishing the original system, giving power back to the army, and not achieving any of the essential demands of the uprising. A full circle uprising, that changed name placards, nothing else. This is a pitfall of many social movements, including the one we had at home in 2005. We were able to force the Syrians out of Lebanon, but replaced them with feudal, sectarian, corrupt, and inapt political representatives who have not been able to carry Lebanon forward. Ghandi himself had to witness India divided, and failed to establish the India he wanted, despite achieving Independence. This is why social movements need to have a political agenda, an alternative, a platform that achieves their ultimate goals. this also brings us back to the need for political representation that advocates for and carries the demands of the movement from grass-roots to policy level.
  5. Art, music and hope: In “THE SQUARE”, Ramy Essam‘s role as the “singer of the uprising” was clearly highlighted. Ramy was creating lyrics and tunes that spoke to people’s suffering and aspirations, gathered them together in memorable chants and created an atmosphere of festivity. This is very important factor in the power of social movements. The language of the mind is insufficient, the movement has to speak the language of the hear and the spirit. Appealing to logic will not amass millions, but provoking sentiment of hope, jubilance, pride, and joy will. I still have the lyrics and tunes of Magida El Roumi, Julia Butrous, and Assi El Hellani from the days of the 2005 Independence movement from Syrian forces. Massive street protests are often faced with police brutality and state terrorism. People fear for their lives, their children’s safety and reject violence. Creating a family-friendly atmosphere of festivity, music, arts and hope will do a movement much better than violence and confrontational action.

It may still be early to judge whether the Egyptian uprising has failed or succeeded, for the events keep unfolding as we speak. The biggest success though has been in its ability to break the fear among Egyptians and empower a while generation with the conviction that they can make a difference. The failures highlighted by “THE SQUARE”, are more or less the successes of the “NO” campaign. The “NO” campaign is a inspiring example of how a social movement, backed up by political power and massive media campaign is able to topple a dictator and replace it with politicians, slightly closer to aspirations of the people. So what does the “NO” film and campaign tell us about social movements and non-violent struggle?

  1. Death, despair and pure logic do not sell: Often, social movements and opposition campaigns focus on exposing the corruption, brutality, and unethical practices of existing regimes. While all this is important to advocate for change, on its own it does not sell. Many might be appalled by the term “sell”, commodifying human rights and social justice, but after all this is what social movements try to do. Social movements are trying to appeal to the wider population, to gather support in order to translate that into power.  If “sell” does provoke the anti-capitalist and anti-corporate leftist side in you, think of “promote” as a better word. In order to promote what the social movement is demanding, it has to appeal to the receiver, to the average individual who works hard to get by. People want hope, they want a better future for their children. They would have probably heard enough of the atrocities and corruption of the regime that rules them. They want to move forward, they want something different, something optimistic. This is the cream of the crop of the “NO” film, where despite not honest to the historical facts of the NO campaign, shows how Rene was able to create a popular brand of the NO campaign. With rainbows, joyful dances, and a jingly song “Chile l’alegria ya viene – Chile happiness is on its way”, the movement resonated with the population, with people mumbling the jingle and singing it in protests. People need to be motivated to grow beyond their cynicism, and this is what Ghandi did when he empowered the Indians to take action and reclaim their salt, or what Martin Luther King delivered through his ‘I have a dream’ speech, or what Rosa Parks inspired when she showed Blacks that they could claim any seat in the bus. You don’t have to do it with advertising and marketing, but make sure to give hope.
  2. The need for compromise and political representation: In the “NO” film, when Rene first suggested the pop-Western style of his campaign to the grey-headed leaders of the opposition, he was ridiculed for undermining the suffering of the people and commodifying freedom and human rights. Even throughout the campaign, Rene’s colorful Western image of Pinochet-free Chile clashed with the producer’s vision, who rejected the baguette as a symbol of bread used by Chileans in picnics. In the end, compromise is what allowed them to gain more than 50% of the votes. This is the case in most non-violent social movements, if not coup d’etats as well. There are multiple players, and they all have their idealistic vision. On the ground, movements in which those in alliance against the system fail to compromise are doomed with failure, since they seem to exclude a portion of the population and create unnecessary opponents.
  3. Change and social justice are gradual, not instantaneous: The young always want instantaneous results, they are anxious and impatient. We often want a whole society or nation to change overnight, by simply toppling a dictator, issuing a law or electing an official. Often, we fail to build on minor successes and lose hope after we realize that it is taking too long to make out idealistic ambitions a reality. Chile today is not the best country in the world. Chile still suffers from corruption, state terrorism and lack of transparent democracy. Nonetheless Chile today is better than Chile under Pinochet, a debatable statement but accepted by a wide majority. After the success of the “NO” campaign, there were political representatives who had been working for years towards a Chile-without-Pinochet, which brings us back to the point made earlier about the need for political representation. Those politicians may not have represented the idealistic image of the population, but they were a better alternative to what existed, a gradual step in the right direction, that could lead the way for more to come.

As I look at Lebanon today, I see social media campaigns and creative hashtags criticizing the system sprouting every week or two. I sense  cynicism at its highest levels, I notice a vibrant (and corrupt) civil society, I follow shy protests advocating for justice, women and civil rights every now and then to no avail. It is clear to me that change is necessary in Lebanon, that the 2005 Independence uprising did not quench our thirst for change, and we feel it was hijacked by corrupt politicians that entrenched the lines of divide among the population.

The lessons highlight above, are universal, and not limited to a country of cause. As I plan to return to Lebanon, or be part of the struggle for civil rights, better education, and better representation, I hope I can put these lessons to practice and work together with a group of social activists who are willing to offer a better alternative to the Lebanese, instead of simply relying on criticism or street protests.

 

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