Police brutality is not new against protesters who stir the steady waters in Lebanon and defy the political regime. Police brutality is not unique to Lebanon, not even to the Arab world. Countries like the United States that take pride in their human and civil rights struggle with police brutality.
Today, after more than four weeks with the trash piling up on the streets of Lebanon, the citizens and activists from the “You Stink – Tol3it Ree7itkum” campaign were met with battalions of security forces deployed to prevent the march towards the “Grand Serail” the government building.
Here is footage showing the police brutality against the unarmed protesters:
Watching the unarmed protesters getting beaten by the angry, and perhaps even scared police men, stirs up a lot of emotions. However, the police brutality and intolerance to protests has a long history in Lebanon.
Here is some footage of when the Take Back Parliament movement clashed with the police back in June of 2013.
Having participated in the 2013 protest, and looked closely at today’s footage, I can tell that many of the protesters, if not the majority of them, are the same as the protesters of the Take Back Parliament movement. It is the same core group of secular, non-partisan, civil rights defending activists who show up, plan, and sacrifice their professions, safety, and health in the name of secularism, anti-corruption, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, teacher’s rights, etc…
I used to think that because they, and I refrain from using WE since I have not been beaten or arrested like many of my fellow activists have, do not belong to any political party, they have no presence or vote in the elections (if they ever happen), they become easy targets to the security forces since after all they have no herdsman to defend them and make some phone calls to release them.
While that is true, the police brutality has been known to come down upon protesters of government-represented political parties as well. For example, here is some footage from July 2019 where the Lebanese Army, in this case, reacting violently with the Free Patriotic Movement’s protesters, who took the streets after an invitation from Michel Aoun, the party leader.
My generation grew up with scenes of protesters clashing with army and security forces in Lebanon. I grew up under the Syrian Occupation and infiltration of intelligence agencies, security forces, and political system in general. The scenes are engraved in my memory. While I could not find many of them online, here is a brief historical recap of the police brutality in Lebanon after a quick search online
Kataeb and Ahrar students clash with police in March 2012:
Here is a protest that seems to be in the late 90’s perhaps early 2000’s,by the Federation of Labour Trade Unions, sparked by an almost 38 per cent increase in gasoline prices decreed by Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s government.
So, police brutality is not new to Lebanon, and unfortunately it is the select few young courageous activists who take the hit and offer their flesh and bones against the wooden batons.
The question is, do their sacrifices lead to desired outcomes?
Usually, and unfortunately not.
So what can be done to minimize the clashes between the police and the protesters, and to make the movement stronger and have it amass more support?
I am confident that organizers and leaders of the movement are fully aware of the concepts of nonviolence and how to train a cadre of interrupters who can prevent the large numbers of protesters from responding to violence with violence.
Responding with non-violence requires a lot of commitment and determination in addition to extensive training. I myself, find myself resorting to anger and violence when I watch these scenes, more so by being present in the protest.
Ghandi founded the concept of Satyagraha and was able to liberate India by convincing and inspiring his supporters to uphold nonviolence. OF course he failed multiple times, because it is human reaction to react to violence with violence. However, the international media enabled him to win international support and exert pressure on great Britain after the protesters walked straight into their beating without lifting one finger.
Martin Luther King Jr. studied Ghandi and depth and used the same strategies against the police brutalities in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
Earlier in 2015, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Srdja Popovic, co-founder of the Center for Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) who talked in depth about how the Serbian youth used nonviolence and Satyagraha to topple Milosevic in 2000. Listen to his Ted talk here.
In my short conversation with Popovic, he told me how when training some Syrian activists, they responded to his methods of nonviolence by saying: “Assad can only be toppled by violence. His response was “We’re here to plan a war. Nonviolent struggle, is a war — just one fought with means other than weapons. It must be as carefully planned as a military campaign.”
Reaching out to critical mass
Aside from abiding to nonviolence, what is definite however, is that the movement needs to amass more public support, not only in terms of numbers on the ground.
The movement will need more volunteers in its leadership and planning to make sure protests do not erupt into violent ones, and protesters do not attack or react with violence to security forces.
The movement will also need to attract and reach out to the critical mass, that is the average Lebanese citizen who usually does not show up at these protests. The average citizen from outside the circles of the liberal activists, the veteran civil rights activist, and the university students. In order for such a movement to grow and challenge the government and the political system, it needs to appeal to the university professors, the school teachers, the unions, the artists, the celebrities, the farmers, the laborers.
Humor and creativity
Most importantly, in order for this movement to really pose a threat to the ruling mafia, and to achieve its demands rather than die and dwindle down in a few weeks like almost all its precedents, it needs to be innovative in its methods. As you can see in the previous few videos, the methods are the same, the locations are the same, the faces are the same, and the results will be the same.
Most people don’t care about human rights. They care about having electricity that works, teachers in every school and affordable home loans. They will support an opposition with a vision of the future that promises to make their lives better.
According to the Pixar philosopher James P. Sullivan, laughter is 10 times more powerful than scream. Nothing breaks people’s fear and punctures a dictator’s aura of invincibility like mockery — Popovic calls it “laughtivism.”
Popovic writes about a protest in Ankara after the Turkish government reacted with alarm to a couple kissing in the subway. Protesters could have chosen to march. Instead, they kissed – 100 people gathered in the subway station in pairs, kissing with great slobber and noise. You are a policeman. You have training in how to deal with an anti-government protest. But what do you do now?
Talking about the miseries of life under a dictator is also a bad strategy for mobilizing activists. People already know — and they react by becoming cynical, fearful, atomized and passive. They might be angry, but they’re not going to act on it. Anger is not a motivator.
So until a movement in Lebanon is able to be innovative, creative, and be willing indeed to take risks and offer sacrifices, leading up to a total national civil resistance and interruption of economic, political, and transportation functions, it will be crushed by the system.
Of course, this is a huge responsibility to lay on the shoulders of the select few activists who are taking the lead and sacrificing their safety and time.
From where I am now, I am not able to offer practical solutions, and my remarks here are not in any means to be condescending or is to patronizing towards whoever is on the ground risking their life and safety. I am perhaps trying to be part of the conversation without being able to. I do support every single activist speaking against the corruption and salute their efforts, but unfortunately, I am afraid it will all go to waste if the methods are not challenging enough and appeal to the wider population…
Knowing many of the organizers, I have no doubt in their creativity and devotion to making a difference in Lebanon.
From wherever I dwell now far away from Lebanon, I wish them to be smart and strategic before being safe.
Salam to all of you.