City-centers are named as such because they gather people. They should not belong, be managed, or be controlled by a few. They should not be accessible only to a few. They are where all inhabitants walk, meet, stroll, buy, stop, and rejoin. City-centers are also where we protest. They are where we contest and subvert. They will always be as such.
We are not the margins, but the centers. They have placed security officers, concrete blocks, and check points. They are the ones that have controlled and perverted our sidewalks, gardens, and public squares. They have built walls against us and around the spaces where we gather and unite.
If in May 1968 the French youth dreamt of sand under the cobblestones of Paris, we in August 2015 reclaim the existing land of Beirut that has been expropriated from under our feet by the privatization of our common space in downtown Beirut. These are the sentiments I have tried to express by the slogan “Under Solidere`s pavement, our land.”
Through many of the numerous conversations with my students at the [private] American University of Beirut (AUB), I have come to realize that I am speaking with a young audience largely unaware of the incongruity of living in a city whose center is privately owned. Inspired by these discussions, I have stated facts and described a situation: “This is not Beirut, this is the logo of a private company that owns the downtown of Beirut.” Here, the logo used is the one designed and appropriated by Solidere, the company I mention.
These issues are not marginal to the protests, they are central to them. The privatization of public property is at the core of corruption issues that have scarred the last ten years of our lives and reinforced our apathy and powerlessness. Adjacent to private beach resorts are the shores of public beaches polluted by the trash of private beaches. On the margins of polished downtown Beirut are the poor dirty neighborhoods of Beirut, tainted by the waste of polished downtown. Under bridges that connect business districts of the city and its surroundings are their piles of junk where we wait for our privately-run buses, vans, taxis—all of them polluting the air we breathe.
“Remove the trash from our streets. They are the trash, we are the streets.” This is the feeling we share under that cheap metaphor of a country we are living in, buried under its own dirty corrupt governance.
We are the generation that witnessed their money laundering and denounced it with little to no reaction or result, until it literally stunk to unbearable levels. “Your money laundering pollutes our environment.”
Finally your face was revealed, your smell came up, #YouStink.
Those who do not go down the streets to denounce, shout, and fight are all accomplices. I, we, those who do, are: “Citizens, and not accomplices.”