A road sign points toward the house of Lebanese poet, philosopher and writer Kahlil Gibran during a roadblock by Lebanese forces on April 28, 2018 in Bsharri, Lebanon. (Kaveh Kazemi / Getty Images)

In Defense of the Lebanese People and their Image

Al-Shorouq, Egypt, October 24

In one of the WhatsApp groups to which I am subscribed, a member uploaded a video of a very beautiful Lebanese girl, dressed in minimal clothes, urging people to come out and participate in the demonstrations. The clip was followed by a sarcastic comment, which illustrated that the member posted the video not to showcase the latest developments of the protests in a substantive way, but rather to criticize the “liberated” and “nontraditional” Lebanese woman. The result was a split among the members of the group about the morality of this video, and a heated debate pertaining to the struggle of the Lebanese people demonstrating against the corruption of their government. What happened in this group, which includes a distinguished membership of writers, journalists, researchers and businessmen, is not a one-off phenomenon but rather something that has repeated itself throughout the Arab world. The repetition of this rhetoric reveals a chronic Arab disease: Many Arab groups and sectors reduce and simplify the protests in Lebanon to a shallow discussion on so-called promiscuity of Lebanese women or the hedonistic nature of Lebanese society. This level of conversation totally undermines the unique, intricate and deeply nuanced culture and civilization of Lebanon. Personally, I myself was also a victim of these wrong stereotypes of Lebanon. My first visit outside Egypt was on July 25, 1990, when I traveled to Lebanon to participate in the Arab National Youth Camp, which included young delegates from many Arab countries. I spent two weeks visiting most Lebanese cities and saw the sectarian tensions not only through readings, but from on-the-ground experiences. I discovered that the Syrian presence in Lebanon was really closer to a full-fledged occupation than mere “foreign intervention.” During this stay, I visited the homes of Lebanese colleagues and discovered that they were leading normal lives like most people in the Arab world – not living in palaces, owning helicopters or having bank accounts in Europe and Latin America, as I was often taught at home. This impression was further reinforced when I traveled to the United Arab Emirates to work for the Al-Bayan newspaper for a decade. This experience was rich for many reasons, not least for discovering the excellence and brilliance of the Lebanese people with whom I worked. It is there that I learned how oppressed Lebanese people feel by this narrow view that treats Lebanese women as if they were all singers, models or beauty queens, prescribing to them what they have to wear and how they ought to behave. Lebanon for me is Fairuz, Rahbania, Marcel Khalife, Majida El Roumi, Kahlil Gibran, Elia Abu Madi, Amin Maalouf and many other legendary leaders, innovators and artists who enriched the entire Arab world. Yes, it is understandable that Egyptians – and Arabs, more broadly – love humor and cynicism, especially given our harsh political realities. But reducing the struggle of the Lebanese people and their desire to be free from oppression and corruption to the mere image of a Western-looking female demonstrator does an injustice to us all. This is a tribute to the brave Lebanese people – men and women – who are striving to build a better society and who proved in recent weeks to be one united front despite all of the corruption and political divisions imposed upon them by corrupt leaders. – Emaad Al-Din Hussein (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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