A ‘revolution of love’: Demonstrators bring hope, unity to protest movement

Immersed in the spirit of change, Lebanese citizens have been participating in an array of activities to start their new chapter on the right foot.
Sunday 03/11/2019
An organic revolution. Lebanese university Professor Lama Mattar (C) takes part in a protest in downtown Beirut. (Michel Zoghzoghi)
An organic revolution. Lebanese university Professor Lama Mattar (C) takes part in a protest in downtown Beirut. (Michel Zoghzoghi)

BEIRUT - From yoga and meditation to board games and recycling initiatives, the Lebanese revolution has taken on another dimension.

Immersed in the spirit of change, Lebanese citizens — old and young alike — have been participating in an array of activities to start their new chapter on the right foot.

Nawal Fleihan, a Reiki healer, organised meditation sessions in Beirut.

“When we gather as a group of meditators with the intention of peace and bringing solutions to the country or situation, it will have a consciousness effect on others and the environment around us,” she said. “It’s very hard to decide this in a place where people were very angry and fear-driven, so we decided to go down to transform the energy as much as we could.”

Although most roads were closed when protests began in mid-October, the group gathered a few times to spread positive energy.

“It felt so powerful being in downtown Beirut, the energy there is unbelievable,” Fleihan said. “We wish we could have more people to participate because we can always make a difference in anything we put our consciousness on.”

Life across Lebanon quickly transformed through initiatives aimed at keeping the streets clean and citizens in good spirits.

“It was really beautiful because each person was protesting in the way they wanted to,” said Ghida Arnaout, a Dubai-based Lebanese, who spent most of her time in the protests in Saida, where flag painting for children and morning yoga were available.

“The atmosphere was like an ongoing happy festival in which people felt close to each other, regardless of where they came from. I felt I was part of a community where each person did their part to help the other. This revolution is about the people.”

Many Lebanese expressed admiration for how they worked towards bringing down a wall of fear that had divided citizens. “The revolution showed how people were hungry to knock down certain taboos, such as sectarian leadership, massive corruption and women’s rights,” said Lama Mattar,  a Lebanese university professor. “The unity of the people, along with the flood of love between us, was so poignant and emotional. You felt that, just by looking at one protester’s eyes, you understood why he was there.”

Volunteers helped set up tents and distribute water and food to demonstrators. “It highlighted the true Lebanese culture of generosity,” Mattar said. “This feminine presence coupled with power also erased [females’] usual defaming image.”

She spoke of the revolution as purely organic — by the people and for the people, distinguishing it from other protests in the country.

“It is the first time there is a real involvement of university professors and academic bodies in moving the revolution forward. The power of knowledge and the power of people came together. It is also the first time we have environmental and social initiatives, as well as public discussions,” Mattar said.

Diala Shuhaiber, a Kuwaiti photojournalist in Beirut, said the movement stands out as being organised and unified, with protesters overwhelmingly waving Lebanese flags rather than flags of political parties.

“For a population that has seen endless suffering, massacres and poverty since the Ottoman Empire, the amount of kindness and peace that they have achieved is unparalleled and admirable,” she said.

“Instead of using this revolution to destroy, fight and blow off steam, they have used it as an opportunity to spread messages of love, peace, tolerance and kindness. That is almost unheard of, especially when one hears or understands the level of suffering and trauma that they have been through.”

During civil disobedience movements when some people blocked off roads with fires, others turned to yoga and meditation or moved their furniture to the middle of highways and turned them into homes.

Shuhaiber’s favourite initiatives included daily cleanup and recycling campaigns, an unfamiliar practice for many Lebanese.

“Even the army asked to take part in the recycling, which is a first,” she said. “From the food and clothes drives for the poor in the same squares where the protests were taking place and the grass-roots movements calling for a better Lebanon, to the classes and seminars taking place in the war-torn abandoned theatres so that students would not miss their education as universities were closed and the Lebanese diaspora’s support, I have never been prouder of my fellow brothers and sisters, the incredible Lebanese, who, even at their lowest, through their wit, brilliance and creativity, managed to keep us all sane with non-stop comedy, hilarity, art, warmth and laughter.

“Some even set up Instagram accounts where people could find their ‘thawra (revolution) crush’ and even a lost and found. The countless creative memes, videos, gimmicks that had us in fits of laughter and tears is something the whole world has been talking about.”

Shuhaiber said she was grateful for the character of the popular movement.

“Some people claimed that, without violence or gory images on the news, nothing will come out of these protests but I disagree. From the beginning, I’ve been calling this the revolution of love because, in my opinion, love always prevails,” she said.