Lebanese mothers struggle to keep protests non-violent
BEIRUT - While watching clashes between anti-government protesters and Hezbollah and Amal sympathisers amid mounting sectarian rhetoric reminiscent of the devastating civil war, Lebanese mothers took to the streets pledging not to allow their children to experience the ills of civil strife.
Taking a stand against sectarian-inspired violence, the group Mothers for Non-Violence rallied thousands of women who marched in Beirut and other Lebanese cities in a show of national unity.
“What happened in the past couple of weeks sounded the alarm. What we saw reminded us of the pain and suffering of the civil war. We just had to act,” said Tanya Ghorra, a founding member of Mothers for Non-Violence.
“The call we posted on social media went viral in a few hours because it answered concerns of mothers who were helplessly watching these incidents. No mother on Earth wants war and violence. Mothers from all regions, backgrounds and religions came together to pledge no return to civil strife.”
Clashes erupted after supporters of the Shia groups Hezbollah and the Amal Movement stepped up violence and intimidation against peaceful protesters across Lebanon, with their sympathisers attacking demonstrators in Beirut, Baalbek and Tyre.
The particularly intense confrontation on a former front line of the civil war between Beirut’s neighbourhoods of Ain el-Remmaneh and Chiyah raised the alarm. Chiyah is known as a support base of the Amal Movement. Ain el-Remmaneh is a stronghold of the Christian Lebanese Forces party.
“We marched, mothers from all religious and social backgrounds, to build human bridges. We were there to say no to sectarianism, no to civil strife and no to violence. We are the people of one land,” Ghorra said.
“There were happy faces and big smiles in the demonstrations with people exchanging white roses and others throwing rice on us as we marched. Even the young guys who might have participated in the clashes were smiling and welcoming. Emotions were very high, very strong.”
Similar demonstrations took place in other parts of Beirut and in Tripoli in northern Lebanon. “It had a contaminating effect spreading from one place to another… a constructive contamination,” Ghorra added.
From Lebanon to Argentina to Chile mothers have been the vanguard of non-violence and peaceful coexistence, Ghorra noted in reference to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo movement in which Argentine women campaigned for their children who disappeared during military dictatorship in the 1980s.
“Anywhere in the world mothers speak a common language,” she said. “Be it in Lebanon or Argentina or Chile they have the same rhetoric. Because we give life, we know more how precious and valuable life is. Our voice is one globally.”
The families of the missing who are suffering from the sequels the civil war (1975-90) were particularly vocal in the mothers’ march for peace.
“We participated in large numbers in the marches against the return to civil strife because we are the best example of what wars do to people,” said Wadad Halwani, founder of the Committee of the Families of Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon.
“When we heard about the clashes between Ain el-Remmaneh and Chiyah, the first thing that came to mind was the reincarnation of the front line. We participated in the demonstration to say that women, not only the wives or mothers of the disappeared, are the most afflicted by the scourge of war and, in the aftermath of conflict, they act as a compass or a fire extinguisher.”
The Committee of the Families of Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon has been staging a sit-in in a public garden in downtown Beirut since 2005 to press for information regarding the fate of some 17,000 people missing in the war.
“We consider our sit-ins in the heart of the current protests to be against corruption and injustices. Our common tragedy has brought the families of the missing together more than 30 years ago regardless of affiliations, religion and background. Today, a large bracket of the Lebanese people has realised that they have the same concerns and sufferings that unified them,” Halwani said.
The mothers’ movement has eased tensions, the organisers said. The traditional ruling parties have long pushed rhetoric of sectarian coexistence to gloss over deep class divides and to maintain their hold on power in the face of protesters’ challenge.
“The power of women on the ground is very big,” Ghorra said. “Women have proved to be instrumental in containing tensions and preventing friction in the protests. They say: ‘We gave you life and we will stop you from imperilling it.’”