As told to Caterina Minthe
“The day I started shooting images of the revolution, I was driving home from a friend’s house when I saw people protesting in the street. I’m a fashion photographer – usually working in Beirut, creating images for glossy publications – but I could not help but park my car, get out, and start taking photos. There had been a climate of tension building over the past few months. Everyone knew that there was a financial crisis coming very soon and people were already afraid that the Lebanese currency would drop in value. Then, when the government decided to apply new taxes mere days after so much Lebanese soil was scorched from forest fires, it was the last straw. It wasn’t the taxes, but rather the government not showing empathy that triggered the revolution.
The first pictures I took were mostly of young people showing their anger – setting tires on fire and blocking roads. These situations had happened before, but we didn’t know how things would evolve. What was interesting is that the next day, students and women got involved. That’s when I witnessed things transition into a more feminine and peaceful protest demanding change and representation.
When I started documenting the revolution in Lebanon – as was the case with the one five years ago – it was to offer a different point of view. In its early days, the international press was not on the ground and the local press belongs to a political group. The officials representing us are the same people who have been in power for 30 years. Theirs is a language of sect, war, and fear. This is not what we care about and it’s not part of our language. Lebanon’s protests are for basic rights – water, public health, transportation, and electricity. The demands are for social justice. It’s not a discussion of who should be in charge and no one is talking about ‘right’ and ‘left.’
Women are protesting because – why shouldn’t they? They live like men, work like men, and pay taxes, just like men. And yet, they have less work, less political representation, and fewer rights. It’s not that women were disinterested in being part of the political system before but because it is a patriarchal system, they weren’t given the opportunity. Of 128 governmental seats, only six are occupied by women. As a Lebanese man, I would vote for a female politician based on her agenda, not her gender. One of women’s biggest demands is to obtain the right to give their nationality to their children. As it stands, if a woman marries a non-Lebanese man, their children would not be Lebanese. Many mothers are going with their kids to the protests. They are going to participate, but also to protect their children. Let’s not forget that when you consider the generation of our parents, men died while women were left to grieve them.
One image caught my attention: women protesting on the ground, just before police decided to break it up and start arresting people. The photo shows a mom with sandwiches, a bottle of water, and a phone grabbing onto a kid who isn’t even hers. There’s another one of a young woman high kicking a politician’s security guard, who is carrying a machine gun. These are powerful images showing women protecting children and also young women rebelling against the old, mostly male system.
During the protests, there is usually a lot of tension between the army and the demonstrators. To try to defuse the aggression, women create a wall between them. It is very courageous because if anything were to occur, they would be the first to receive the blow. By creating this wall, automatically, both the army and the protestors practice restraint because it is a patriarchal culture where a man is not supposed to hit a woman.
Nevertheless, in this culture, women are criticized for the way they look and the way they dress. There are women going to the protests wearing full sets of jewelry. Some people think this is ridiculous but there is no etiquette on what to wear. These women shouldn’t wear a mask and dress down – they are part of society just like everyone else. Regardless of their social class, it also shows the status of women in the country and their empowerment. They don’t care what people think about them. They aren’t afraid to go out in a minidress and protest. Anyone who has the courage to protest has more courage than anyone who shames them.
Since I started my career as a fashion journalist, my job has been to represent women. And while I can try to describe what is happening, I shouldn’t speak on their behalf. Here, there are women stronger than any man and with voices stronger than mine. Today and together, we are showing our pride in being Lebanese, regardless of who we are.”
Originally published in the January 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia