Lebanon is covered in purple these days, purple billboards that is. From Batroun to Beirut and onwards, a mysterious political group calling themselves Sabaa (seven) are announcing the advent of "Lebanon's new political color."
One of the posters depict a school of small fish grouping together to form a larger fish that is about swallow the big fish, an obvious allusion to Lebanon's political class. The type says, "it's time for serious business."
One can't help but wonder how a group comparing themselves to the veritable small fish little guys might be able to finance the scores of billboard placements that we've seen crop up this week. Typically, a billboard placement averages $1,000 (a conservative estimate). You might call it: a fishy situation.
It apparently marks the addition of a new political hue to a decade of political color wars, where competing political parties staged very public shows of color branding. If you were "blue" you were a supporter of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement. Only supporters of General Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement would be caught dead wearing anything orange. Hezbollah came to be associated not with their Klashnikov-flailing emblem, but with the yellow background. The list goes on.
The political stalemate that transpired after former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's death in 2005 led to nationwide sit-ins, two wars, and most recently, an ongoing trash crisis. This last event served as an impetus to ostensibly grassroots protest movements such as the YouStink movement, Bidna nHasseb, Beirut Madinati ... and now Sabaa.
It's a political teaser campaign like you've never seen it before. A heavily advertised Facebook page has already gathered nearly 6,000 followers since Oct. 11, at the time of this writing. And the billboards are complemented by stencils of the number seven in Arabic give it a street feel. It's reminiscent of the V in V for Vendetta ( 2006), which popularized the story of England's Guy Fawkes of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
So who is this group of small fish shrouded in purple secrecy? "You'll get to know us soon," they tell commenters on their page. Their website sabaa.org features a Coming Soon message.
Lebanon has been ruled by the same political class that ruled over the country during its Civil War (175-1990) thanks to an Amnesty Law that meant that warlords moved into the reconstruction era scot-free. The country has since suffered from crippling debt, a disappearing middle class and severe deteriorations in the public sector. All this in spite of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid that western nations have pumped into the country's public services.
A passage in a piece in the Washington Post this week (tellingly entitled "Beirut's lessons for how not to rebuild a war-torn city" ) depicts the sad reality of Lebanon's ever-spinning web of corruption: