By: Ruben Elsinga; Warche 13 Art, Civic & Knowledge Space – Tripoli
It’s a rainy day at Sahet al Nour, Tripoli. Where last week the sun fired up the Revolution, today it is the damp of days past that covers the square, obscuring what is going to remain from the spontaneous protests that erupted all over Lebanon. Hiding under a party tent that served as a revolutionary civil society school until today’s storm, a group of 10-15 Tripolitans are starting to plan further steps that should not only bring the government down, but also real change in their city. While they are writing new slogans to be printed as signs for tomorrow’s rally, I am witness of their newfound civil humility as citizens.
The people gathered are from the small circle of what until recently was designated as the vanguard of Tripoli’s ‘civil activists’. Until the revolution, this group of young people were competing to become new ‘civil leaders’ of the city, representing different civil, entrepreneurial, educational, art and cultural initiatives and organizations. In contrast to their often very similar goals and plight to be part of positive change, in the pre-revolutionary world, they were mere marionets hanging on an invisible hand of those whose only interest was to keep them in play.
Although friendly and cooperative at times, until the revolution this group remained essentially divided. Initiatives were organized by one clique, initiative or association or the other. Everybody seemed to compete for a chance to just be, to exist. Resources, often linked to their (organizations’) access to (international) ‘civil society donors’, were the bargaining chips for a narcissistic game played with people’s instinctual need to be, and to be recognized.
In fact the hand that was playing this game, was not so invisible for those who looked closely and understood the underlying dynamics of this city: ‘civil society’ was just another arm of an elaborate system of cronyism, that was designed to do exactly the opposite of empowering the people. Hence, being a ‘civil society activist’ was a shorthand for being part of a select group of citizens who were allowed to exist by a system that in turn used them as occupiers of a civil space that they were supposed to open to all.
But no more. Within the fires of last week’s occupation of the city center, a new bond brew and chains of division were broken. An real infant civil society was born. By simply meeting, talking and listening to each other and the common people they until recently merely pretended to represent, these group of young people were humbled by the paramount task of no longer being ‘civil society activists’, but just ordinary citizens. Confronted with the questions of what next, how further and how can I – as an until now deprived citizen without a chance to develop myself, let alone my city – contribute to positive change, they are humbled by the confrontation with their own limitations.
And so from the damp of this rainy day, the new citizens of Tripoli emerge, humble but determined, because it is only now they realize that real change can start. Real change through real civil development, starting with the hard confrontation with their own limited selves, but fired up and empowered by a newfound openness for all, to be. To be simple humble citizens, who contribute rather than control their city. It is this quiet revolution from within of the people’s newfound humble citizenship that will determine the course of their future, as a people, as citizens of Tripoli and Lebanon.