For years, the Lebanese Independence Day (Nov. 22) has been just another day off. Beyond the scenic sites, the bustling nightlife, and little quirks that make the connection with Lebanon a love-hate relationship, many Lebanese struggle to find reasons to celebrate the national holiday. Instead, they are bound to contemplate the disheartening status quo and joke about how they might have been better off remaining under the French Mandate.
On Oct. 17, 2019, people in Lebanon reached a breaking point triggered by poor living conditions, coupled with the cycle of debt, violence, and corruption plaguing the country for decades. They took to the streets to demand their most basic of rights and to hold leaders accountable for sinking Lebanon deeper into an abyss, a rather corrupt one with polluted water and constant power cuts, to say the least. Since then, revolutionaries have accomplished a number of milestones, including the cancelation of controversial tax plans, the resignation of the cabinet, the prosecution of public officials, as well as the election of an independent candidate as the head of the Beirut Bar Association.
The series of events that were sparked on Oct. 17 represent more than just a "protest" or a "movement." Their significance extends beyond the obvious, yet surely remarkable, achievements. Unfazed by the establishment's repressive measures, people in Lebanon - long loyal to their leaders - revolted against the sectarian oligarchy like never before. Geographical, religious, sectarian, and social class walls built by the power-hungry ruling class have been shattered in recent weeks. And with that, the Lebanese finally have a reason to celebrate Independence Day.
To know more about how the revolution has influenced the way Lebanese individuals feel about their country, StepFeed reached out to several individuals who have taken part in the historic uprising:
On independence from political parties
Jad Tabaja, a 25-year-old lawyer who has been participating in the demonstrations since their start, believes the revolution signifies the independence of Lebanese individuals from their political and religious leaders:
"The reason that the October Revolution did not happen before is that citizens used to believe that ending political sectarianism is a 'threat' to co-existence, taking into consideration the existence of a confessionally articulated demographic majority. For the first time in Lebanon, Lebanese people of different sects and classes united to demand the removal of all political leaders and protest against the lack of available jobs and a living wage. All of a sudden, we decided to wake up, think of our future, and put aside our religious belonging and therefore our political one. It is the first time in Lebanon that citizens unite and protest for the sake of their country, instead of a certain political party or religion.
Noticing the number of people taking over the streets for a better living made us regain hope in Lebanon and in our future. Accordingly, this Independence Day, we will not only be celebrating the independence of Lebanon but also the unity of the Lebanese people and their independence from religions and political parties."
On experiencing patriotism like never before
During her participation in the demonstrations, 23-year-old law graduate Leen Mostafa discovered a sense of pride and patriotism she had never experienced before:
"On the 22nd of November 1943, our country gained its independence from the French Mandate. On the 17th of October 2019, we revolted and are still revolting to gain independence from Lebanese colonizers, the leaders who have been corrupting the country deeper for years. We are writing history for our beloved country.
Since we were young, we would always wave our Lebanese flags and listen to our national anthem just as an annual routine on Independence Day. I never really knew what patriotism is. The corrupt political system made us hate our own country. But after Oct. 17, I realized I never want to leave Lebanon. I never want to continue my studies or work abroad. I never want to leave my land. This is our land. My country is my home. And I have the right to live decently at home. Now I truly know what patriotism is."
On uniting against all odds
Content creator Aya Abi Haidar, 25, was among the first people to protest on Oct. 17. According to her, Lebanon is yet to gain its true independence from exterior forces, but the revolution has brought the country miles closer to that goal:
"For me, the real Independence Day was on Oct. 17; the Civil War finally ended that day. People came together to champion the same cause and the same goal. People from across the country, with different backgrounds and religions, united to call out the failing system that includes destructive politicians who have been dividing the country among each other with nothing but their personal interests in mind. We finally let go of our sects and political factions.
Of course, Independence Day holds a great value to me since it means independence from the French Mandate, but I think the time has come to gain independence from the warlords who have been ruling our country for the past thirty years. Our leaders are controlled by foreign players, such as Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Once we get rid of those in power, we would put an end to that dependence and start the process of building a country without this exterior interference."
On creating a viable future for Lebanese students
Hadi Khalaf, a 17-year-old high school senior, was among the many school students who partook in the protests. He believes the uprising has shed light on the importance of political activism among the youth:
"During my years at school, I have regularly recited paragraphs from civics books that describe our so-called democracy. My friends and I would always struggle to memorize the lessons, simply because they are poles apart from reality.
Despite older generations doubting the effectiveness of these protests, the latter marked the first time I ever see my school friends and even some strange teenagers on the road debating political history, democracy, and our current regime. This revolution has been the precursor for the development of political activism within the youth and thereby the creation of a sense of patriotism. Therefore, this upcoming Independence Day surpasses mere flag waving or chants: The youth realizes the days of colonialism still prevail. This Independence Day sets a new era for a new Lebanon, with its youth carrying the mantle for the future.
We aim to build a Lebanon free of corruption, sectarianism, and poverty. We simply ask for a future we can live in, for a reality similar to the one we study in school books. This revolution ignited a spark within me that I never thought existed. All the patriotic chants finally made sense. Our national anthem finally clicked in my mind."
On breaking loose of political constraints
During the uprising, a 17-year-old school student, who chose to be identified by her first name Shella, reconsidered the political allegiance she was raised upon. Having grown up in a family of devout supporters of President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Shella realized political affiliation was not the path she aims to pursue:
"He [President Aoun] was the man of the hour, the leader of the army, the savior of the Lebanese economy. He was the idol whose name goes without saying, whose reputation precedes him. Yet, seventeen years later, I realize he was never my leader nor my icon; he was my parents' not mine. I shook his hands once; I saw that big bright smile just before the elections. That family in power is our own monarchy, controlling every aspect of our lives.
Yes, I was FPM's strongest advocate and its flag hangs high in my home. Yes, I was part of its community. Yet, I have decided to be Lebanese first. Our history with racism, nepotism, and militias taint whatever our leaders promise to achieve. Their time is over. He doesn't realize his people are the entirety of Lebanon not a select few."
And replacing political flags with the Lebanese flag
A 15-year-old high school student, who chose to be identified by her first name Reem, also decided to rise above her family's political affiliation:
"Ever since I was a child, the concept of belonging to a certain political party was embedded in my mind. I used to think that joining said parties would be my golden ticket to earning a good job and position. I would walk in parades waving Progressive Socialist Party's flag as if it were the national one. However, this revolution has completely changed my perspective on Lebanon and its future. It showed me that there’s hope for a better country; one where you wouldn’t have to worship a certain leader to get where you want to be, one where an individual is appraised based on their merit and not their sect nor political ties."
On restoring hope in Lebanon
Ferial Berjawi, a 22-year-old analyst at a management consulting firm, has been living in the United States since graduating from high school. She actively participated in the events organized by Lebanese expats, which restored her hopes in returning to Lebanon in the future:
"The past thirty days have reignited a hope that had just been wishful thinking for the past five years: The hope of possibly going back home, being with my parents as they grow older, and raising my children to speak my mother tongue. For the past five years, I had been numb to just how attached I am to my country; I am not 'unhappy' here per say, but it just feels empty. On Oct. 17, it literally felt like all the senses came back to me, the joy and warmth in my heart seeing everyone united, the fear of what's going to happen next, the pain of being deprived the participation in these historical events. While I might be physically here in the US, my heart, mind and soul are with revolutionaries in Beirut.
I feel like over the past month, true independence was achieved: Independence from entrenched sectarian divides, ignorance, cowardice, and blind loyalty. The women and men on the streets gave Independence Day a true meaning for the first time in thirty years, and for that reason, this Friday, I will be truly celebrating the unity, resilience, determination, and 'antifragility' (in the words of the Lebanese author Nassim Nicholas Taleb) that are driving this revolution and restoring our hope in our country."