THE ISSAM FARES INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC POLICY AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
IFI in collaboration with the London School of Economics (LSE) Middle East Centre held a workshop and interactive discussion titled “Lebanon Unsettled: The October 2019 Uprising as a Product of Urban Space” on July 3, 2023. The panel was composed of LSE Visiting Fellow in Human Geography and Environment Deen Sharp, Visiting Associate Professor in the Faculty of Architecture and Design Lebanese American University May Farhat, Landscape Architect and Urbanist Sarah Lilly Yassine, Policy Advisor, Writer and IFI Associate Fellow Camille Ammoun, who also acted as moderator. Professor of Politics and Urban Studies at the American University of Beirut Mona Harb participated as the discussant. The workshop presented the Lebanon Unsettled project, led by Deen Sharp and Dr. May Farhat that created a USEK student-led archive of the October 2019 uprising, placing this moment in its geographical and historical context.
May Farhat addressed the genealogy of the movement, tracing its patterns back to pioneering revolutions in Mount Lebanon. The first movement she focused on was the peasant rebellion of 1821 against feudalism and high taxes, one among many others that she called Aamiyat; taken from the word commoners in Arabic. Farhat noted that the Lebanon Project’s goals are to locate an archive of rebellion, uprising, and popular movement in Lebanon, and to tie it in context to the October 2019 protests. Some of the limitations to her work included issues of accessibility to these archives, which included an array of photos, articles, and press releases from Lebanon’s different eras. Sarah Lilly Yassine shared some recordings taken while on one of the October 2019 uprising’s marches in Tripoli towards Fawaz Fouad Al Samman’s home – violently killed by security forces during one of the revolution’s early protests. She noted that the recordings symbolize how the barrier of fear was broken by protestors, unafraid of cursing or calling out corrupt politicians by name. She also spoke on the unity that these chants ensued between a diverse community of protestors, echoing Lebanon’s intersectional identity. The recordings also serve as a timeline for the uprising’s events and an account for the shift from a movement that was initially selme (peaceful) to a non-selme because of targeted violence.
Principal Investigator in this research project, Deen Sharp spoke of the geographies of October 2019. His conversations with architects at USEK delved into how the October uprising made public spaces accessible, in reference to roads and highways that were flooded by people during the revolts. Sharp believed that the protests were not geographically decentralized, because regardless of revolutionary efforts throughout the country, Beirut – particularly the Martyr Square and Riad El Solh – were the center of protests and clashes. Meanwhile, Camille Ammoun discussed the geographic significance of Beirut, quoting from his book Octobre Liban, which follows Ammoun on a tour of the city during the uprising, denoting how its many landmarks are markers of the country’s painful events and key historical moments.
The discussion concluded with Mona Harb, mentioning, among others, the importance of the positionality of the researchers and their ability to provide well-rounded educational tools and methodologies. She also commented on Sharp’s decision to conduct his research at USEK itself, due to its geography, countering his claims that it is a rural area and positioning it as part of the urban space.
The full recording of the workshop can be accessed here.
Read Sharp's piece on the event here.