Note: All of what is below is based on an eyewitness statement. This is what I SAW, not heard. No one told me this, I experienced it. Unless my eyes lied, this is reality. This IS what happened.
Yesterday was hectic. It’s one of those days where something very dramatic and completely unexpected comes your way. It’s one of those days where you get a machine-gun pointed at you and your friends. It’s one of those days where you see your close friends being beaten up with broomsticks and physical force. It’s one of those days where you get locked in a small area while an armed militia is attempting to break in and attack you despite the police’s presence. It was one of those days where you witness peaceful activists passing out, crying in retaliation, and not giving up their rights. It’s one of those days where peaceful chants get transformed into “an attack using bats and empty bottles and violence” by the media and an overdue politician.
Yesterday was unique.
How did it start?
One of my friends, K., is leaving the country, and wanted to have a farewell party with all the people she loves in Beirut. She decided to have it in Nasawiya Cafe, which is located in Mar Mikhael. I decided to go for a while before returning home and working on my papers. Not all the attendees were civil society activists, but some were. We are having a few drinks and joking around. We were around 20 people.
We decided to ask each other about the first impression each one of us had of K., and videotape it, so that she would have a nice souvenir to always remember us by. I was filming (with a smartphone).
We go around, to each their turn. We laugh and we joke. We give hugs. When, suddenly, as it was the turn of another friend to talk about her first impression (I’m still filming), one man in a pink shirt comes into Nasawiya. He says: “ما تصوّروا! ما بدنا السيّارة تطلع بالصورة!” (Don’t take pictures! we don’t want the car to be on the pictures!)
Given that Nasawiya is a private property, and they have no right to impose anything on us, we went outside to question these people about what is going on. We joke around with them. They laugh, we laugh. Everything is fine.
Then, they say that they are the convoy of an MP. Given that many of us are civil society activists protesting against the unconstitutional and undemocratic parliamentary extension, we started chanting against all MPs: “برا برا برا! نواب طلعوا برا!” (Away! Away! Away! MPs go away!).
The bodyguard then says: “عطيناكن وج شوي بس زدتوها!” (We joked with you a bit, but you took it too far!). He takes a machine-gun from under his seat, and loads it. He points it in our faces, then to the head of one of my friends. We panic. Some scream. Some try to calm things down. Some get enraged at the blatant act of pulling out a machine gun in public and aiming it at defenceless civilians.
R. N., one of the people with us, took the guy away, stroked his chin trying to cool him off, and tried to talk to him. Two other people get down from the car and start beating up some protesters. Women come in between trying to put an end to it. Screaming and panic is everywhere.
“أنا معي امر بقتلك!” (I have an order to kill you!) screams one of the bodyguards while attacking one protester. Women and men are still trying to pull the bodyguards away and prevent anyone from getting harmed. The bodyguards find a broomstick somewhere and break it on a friend’s head.
People get pushed by the guards onto the glass walls of Nasawiya.
What should you do when an armed militia threatens you with weapons? I am NOT a violent person, and I do NOT believe in violence. All of the people who know me know that about me. But, what would you do if you have a gun pointed at your head?
I scream to K. to check the number plate of the car, so we know whom this violent MP is and let people know what is going on.
The guy in the pink shirt quickly leaves. We then learn from the media that Gemayel is saying that we attacked them with sticks and glass bottles and injured one victim. Peaceful protesters attacking with sticks? Civil society activists throwing glass bottles at other human beings? Is he out of his mind? Does he think we are violent as him and all the other political parties in power with their mini militias going around? How can we call for non-violence and attack convoys with violence? Does what he is saying even make sense to himself?
Z. A. and I go inside to call 112. 8 more minutes of beatings and still, no security forces show up. I call again and complain. They come 7 mins after my second call. They lock us inside, and leave the armed gunmen outside.
R. I., one of the protesters who was brutally attacked by the bodyguards, and had to go through the traumatic experience of having a gun pulled out to his head, screamed: “!أنا ما ردّيت علين ولا ضربت حدا! كان فيي اضرب وكسّر بس ما بدي! عيّن سلاحوا عليّي! بتعرف شو يعني عين سلاحو عليّي؟!” (I did not fight back or retaliate to their beatings! I could have hit them but I chose not to! He pointed his weapon to my head! Do you know what it means when someone points his weapon at you?!)
Three of my friends are inside crying. Some others have joined us in solidarity and get locked inside with us.
Wait, some might tell me: “Why did you chant? Chanting is a mistake!”. It’s essential to keep three things in mind:
1- We were NOT violent. We NEVER use violence, even against people we are protesting against. Even if they beat us up, we don’t retaliate. Violence is not our language. Most of us are pacifists for heaven’s sake. We are not warlords. We are not members of a militia. We are people who want peace. We are people who want a secure and developed country. We do not have hate inside our hearts, we have aspirations. We have aspirations of a better country. We have aspirations of not having to emigrate to get a decent life. We are your sons and daughters. We are people who refuse to submit to the rule of sectarianism and violence. We will, under no circumstances, attack anyone with physical violence, even when we are being attacked ourselves.
Even when we were beaten up by the army in our peaceful protest against parliamentary extension, we did not attack the army because we believe in having a state capable of protecting itself. I am fine with being beaten up by the army, but beating beaten up by some guards of an overdue sectarian MP? No, thanks.
2- It is our right to film inside Nasawiya. Nasawiya is a private property and it is completely our right to film inside it under all circumstances.
3- It is our right to peacefully protest against unconstitutional extension, even (and especially) in front of an MP’s convoy. These people have led our country to chaos. They have failed in their job of protecting the people. Look at Aseer in Saida and the situation in Tripoli. Look at access to healthcare and education. Look at the corruption in governmental institutions. Look at the brain-drain. Look at the unemployment rate. Look at how this system has failed to protect and repeatedly victimized women, people with disabilities, members of the LGBT community, migrant workers, among others. Look at what kind of life you and your parents would have to lead in Lebanon, and grow old with. I don’t know about you, but I think a peaceful protest to show these leaders that their time is up is the minimum we could do.
Things calm down a bit. No one is beating anyone anymore. The army outside is trying to work with the armed men. We call our lawyer. She comes and gets insulted by the people outside when trying to negotiate with them.
We notice some supporters of Nadim gathering outside Nasawiya. Some said they had weapons, I am not sure. They pushed the army and tried to break in and attack us. Some of us were terrified and others enraged. We hear loud bangs, which (thank God) turn out to be from the Police’s side trying to disperse the violent supporters of Nadim who came to attack us.
This was a civil war. This is the closest thing I have experienced to a civil war. This was horrible.
I wanted to leave. I had enough. I was having an internal emotional breakdown. I took my bag, gathered my things, and headed towards the door. I was stopped by some friends who said that I’d be attacked by Gemayel’s supporters who were outside if I do leave. We were locked in.
To calm myself down, I called a few friends and started spreading what is going on via Facebook. My parents had no clue about what was going on, and I did not want to worry them.
I saw a friend, falling down and fainting. I lift him up and dial 140 (Red Cross). They come in. (PS: There is a lot of footage showing how the Red Cross was INSIDE Nasawiya treating a victim, not OUTSIDE treating anyone from the armed men’s side)
In brief, after a while, the army goes in and tries to get our statements. Our lawyer interacts with them. They take the names of the people who want to give their statements and tell them to come the next day at 9.30AM to the Gemmayze police station to proceed with legal action. They are still at the station as I am writing this blogpost.
OK. It’s over, but we were still concerned about our safety if we left. We asked the army to escort us to our cars. They said the road is safe, but eventually did escort us after we insisted.
I made it home safely.
OK. Few questions:
1- Since Gemayel is from a political party that claims to be Christian, How the hell were they wearing crosses around their necks and hollering a machine gun in our faces? Is this what Christianity is all about? Is beating up men and women because they were protesting something Jesus would like? I wonder if Jesus would be happy. I wonder how you understand Christianity, which is, up to my knowledge, a religion of love and compassion, not of violence and arms. I wonder. Christianity is innocent from all of your acts. This is not Christianity, and will never be. Any Christian who knows his religion well would tell the difference.
2- Gemayel’s party calls against political parties having arms, while hollering their own arms at the civil society. How can you be against the arms of one party while practicing violence with machine guns yourself? Cognitive dissonance much? How are you different than the people you are rallying against? We need to stop focusing on our past and look on what is happening in the present.
3- The MEDIA. The media immediately mentioned news about protesters allegedly attacking the convoy. Seeing this piece of news showed me how bad the media is in Lebanon, and how much power these corruptive leaders have. When something that happened in front of your own eyes gets twisted into a story that fits under a sectarian leader’s propaganda, there is a problem. How would you feel if you were trapped in a small area with people outside trying to attack you, while the media is spreading how YOU are attacking and injuring them? Some of my friends were refusing to listen to what the media is saying.
Is there any more evidence?
Yes. We have videos and photos and sound recordings. Welcome to the 21st century. Lots of people filmed the horrible incident and should post their multimedia online soon enough.
What to do?
I am still a person who does not believe in violence. If anything, what happened yesterday was an affirmation of an already existing belief of how these leaders have corrupted Lebanon. The civil society activists will continue their peaceful strife against the unconstitutional MPs, and this is only a reminder to people of the brutal system we are fighting against.
I do NOT hate any party’s supporters. I respect every human being. But once you start hollering your machine gun in my face, there is a problem.
Some media worth of sharing:
Some updates from the social media:
All in all, this was one of the most dramatic nights of my life. I do not want to have to go through this again. No one does. We need change.
PS: Oh, and it was one hell of a farewell party.
In the end, a picture from Friday’s protest, to show how “violent” we are:
UPDATE: Five of the protesters who had been victimized in the incident were sent to detention. They were allegedly going to be kept until 7PM for “refusing to accept a settlement with Mr. Gemayel”. They were later released at 6:10PM after pressure from people who protested in solidarity.
Civilians protest for the release of the activists held in arbitrary detention, and get attacked by Gemayel’s bodyguard, while the police stood watching: (The aggressor was later released from the station with no charges, after the protesters left the scene)
Video showing how it all started:
(at 0:47, activists are wondering who the man who entered Nasawiya is. At 3:49, you can hear the machine gun being loaded)
A compiled video that shows what happened in the two days:
MEDIA REPORTS THE ABUSE:
1- LBC News Introduction:
2- AlJadeed Report:
3- LBC News Report:
A reply to everyone asking us to go protest in other areas instead of Achrafieh, with the intentions that we’d encounter the same kind of thugs belonging to other political parties:
A thorough reading of this post and an examination of the videos (namely this one) shows that we WERE NOT planning on protesting in front of ANYONE. The only reason we protested was because Nadim’s convoy had stopped right in front of our premises, and after they asked us to stop filming INSIDE Nasawiya. No movement was planned, so please refrain from asking us to protest elsewhere when we did not even plan a protest. The chants heard in the video were peaceful and spontaneous, and happened after we went out and discovered that an MPs convoy was parked in front of Nasawiya and after they went in and asked us to stop filming (we still had no idea whom that MP was. To us, he was an MP and he was illegitimate).
We are against all the militias no matter which party they are from. That’s a given. Blaming other political parties as having similar (or worse) militias does not make Nadim’s thugs innocent. That is a logical fallacy. It just shows how we are under the rule of several militias, and how biased the person presenting this argument really is. If anything, it should empower the presenter of this argument to support civil society activists against all kinds of human rights breaches committed by ANY politician whatsoever.
I would have loved if Mr. Nadim apologized for the chaotic and ruthless acts of his bodyguards, and sent the responsible people to justice. I would have respected him for that, instead of initially presenting a twisted story to the media.
Until we reach a country where the police and the judiciary system are not subject to any pressure, whether related to political leaders or bribery. Until we reach a country where justice is served, no matter whom the perpetrator is. Until we reach a country.