This is a personal account of what happened yesterday night, Saturday the 22nd of August 2015. I was there alongside thousands of Lebanese citizens demanding for our rights when we were met with police brutality, teargas canisters, water-canons and armed thugs following peaceful protestors and beating them. As with the previous post, I’m responsible for my own words.
As one of those who helped organize this protest, I can safely tell you that the government’s reaction was beyond anything we were expecting. We were expecting water-cannons like last time, and many of us came prepared for those (putting our phones in plastic bags etc.). But we were not prepared for the teargas and we were certainly not expecting to see riot police and army men playing the role of government thugs.
The sheer savagery of riot police and army men shooting teargas canisters haphazardly at any concentration of people they saw in front of us was a shock to us all. We saw old women and children between carried by men to save them from getting crushed by everyone else. We were yelling ‘we have kids! We have kids!’ while riot police increased the velocity of the water cannons until none of us could stand on our feet. The water-cannons pushed nearly 10,000 people into one another on a narrow street. Kids who came with their parents were being trampled on, old ladies screaming ‘shame! shame!’ while they tried to run away, young men and women building a solidarity wall to prevent the brutality of water cannons from hitting the weaker ones among us.
We remained in our thousands despite the brutality. We filmed everything while constantly re-assuring our loved ones at home that we’re okay. Some of us had to deal with our loved ones being there with us. Of course, we weren’t okay. Many of us were severely injured and rushed to the hospital. I was myself directly hit by a teargas canister and had to be briefly hospitalized. Those of us with relatively minor injuries had to make way for the dozens of more serious ones being rushed through to get their 30 seconds of oxygen in ambulances.
But how did it all start? The protest was set to begin at 6pm but people were already coming before 5pm. By 6pm, we had already passed the 2,000 mark. By 7pm, we had reached 10,000.
All was going well, but some of us were worried. The high number of policemen was surreal. There was obviously something wrong. Our movement largely consists of young men and women, this time joined by the elderly and kids, and the only ‘weapons’ we’ve ever had in the past were eggs, empty plastic bottles and plastic bags. We didn’t even have those yesterday night. But despite all of that, at around 4pm, we were surrounded by nearly 300 policemen, and we were barely 30 civilians.
They had shut down the adjacent road to Riad El Solh where we were planning to have the other half of protestors stand. The plan was to have both roads, the one in front Riad El Solh and the one perpendicular to it, open, as last week, to allow mobility and decrease the risk of conflicts. We weren’t expecting that road to be closed down because there was no reason for it to be closed. It is a public road and we had the legal right to be on it.
It was immediately clear that the Chief of Police, or whoever gives him orders, had no real plan for ‘dealing’ with us. There was no strategy, no real methods of communications between the police and the protest’s organizers. They were treating us as a foreign threat, as though we were ISIS or Israel. Seeing so many policemen, armed to the teeth, was frankly pathetic.
I couldn’t help myself but ask several of them ‘why exactly are you here?’ without receiving a reply. Needless to say, they didn’t have any answer. They were ‘just’ following orders, blindly playing the role of armed thugs in the name of the very people who treat them like shit. We kept on yelling throughout the protest that those policemen should’ve been standing with us. They’re the ones who barely get paid minimal wage with little to no social benefits for doing a job believed by many to be just. While some policemen did laugh at us while we were yelling for our lives, most seemed to have been extremely uncomfortable at being there, lowering their heads and refusing to make eye contact, especially when addressed by the women among us.
Things started getting violent when we had announced that we will go through with our plan to enter Nejmeh Square. Our plan had been announced days before. We were to Occupy Nejmeh Square in order to put effective pressure on the government to meet our rightful demands. It’s very simple, basic and in accordance to legitimate Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDS) methods, largely accepted worldwide as acceptable forms of freedom of expression.
In order to enter Nejmeh Square we had to go through the adjacent road which was shut down like this (on the right):
So two lines of protestors were formed to break through, non-violently, the wall of policemen. Here’s a footage of the very first moments of violence yesterday evening.
After that, things got dangerous. This is when the water-cannons started shooting at us while policemen pushed protestors into one another. As mentioned above, chaos soon ensued. Men and women were trying to protect the kids and elderly by carrying them to safety or forming a wall in front of the water-cannons. I can tell you that the water-cannons used higher velocity than the other time as we couldn’t resist them this time.
It was extremely dangerous. We genuinely feared for our lives. And for what? Demanding sustainable solutions to Lebanon’s trash crisis as opposed to its current catastrophic mismanagement? Wanting to live normal lives free of such suffocating corruption and sectarian nepotism?
I have to leave and go back to Riad El Solh now. Please follow the ‘You Stink’ page for more updates. We’re doing our best to translate everything into English for international observers. Will be writing another post soon.