Protesting has effectively been banned in Beirut.
On Saturday night a little before 8:30 PM, the Beirut Municipality Public Relations office released the following statement:
“Beirut Governor Ziad Chebib commissioned the police to ban demonstrations and protests on streets that lead to churches and mosques during mass and prayer times.”
This law to many might first appear as being a sensitive move to those who practice Christianity and Islam. But it also comes off with the assumption that protests prevent people from attending prayer, or disturb them while doing so.
However, this has nothing to do with being sensitive to religious institutions and those who practice Islam and Christianity.
After all, religious institutions never complained about the protests in downtown Beirut throughout the summer and fall of 2015 impacting prayer or access to them.
The decision in fact effectively bans protesting altogether.
In the map below, I pinpointed as many mosques and churches possible around downtown Beirut, which is a common district where protests take place - Martyrs’ Square, Riad al-Solh Square by the Grand Serail, the Beirut Municipality building…etc.
Considering that there are mosques and churches on almost every street in Beirut, or at least every street leads to one, this effectively means that you cannot protest in Beirut.
What about outside of prayer time?
Some of you might be asking, “Now wait a second, Kareem…people don’t pray 24 hours a day!”
But, let’s consider the Islamic faith alone: five times a day.
What are protestors or those in a sit-in going do?
Get off the street every few hours for a quick coffee break?
What if the government decided to extend their terms for a third time on a Saturday night?
Wait until Sunday afternoon after mass because the country has virtually become a dictatorship?
There never seemed to be a problem in the first place for such a decision to be called for.
Even in large-scale protests, people would stop chanting during the Islamic call to prayer out of courtesy.
Claims to be a democracy; officially a semi-democracy; an oligarchal dictatorship in reality?
Ever since the garbage crisis in 2015 sparked a wave of protests, Lebanese civil society has become far more active than before. Protests, demonstrations, and the interest in political issues have skyrocketed in Beirut.
Ziad Chebib has been the recipient of huge criticism, especially with the Ramlet al-Baida campaign, where activists have desperately tried to stop the privatization of Beirut’s last public beach.
Those unfamiliar with it can read more here.
The governor has since refused a court order which was passed calling the construction project on the beach illegitimate.
On April 11, almost two months after the court order was passed without implementation from Chebib, the judicial council that passed the decision suddenly reversed it.
Protests have taken place by the municipality building sporadically against the continuation of this project.
But going forward, are citizens condemned to Facebook and Twitter to express their concerns with governments and corporations?
This decision is a symptom of a greater problem in Lebanon: authoritarianism.
The only solution to such a problem is addressing that the foundation of Lebanon as a whole needs to be fixed.
Remember: it doesn’t take a royal family or military rule to be a dictatorial state.
For the sake of whatever rights the few of us in Lebanon have left, I hope this one doesn’t go unnoticed.