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Lebanon’s Protests: Cleaning in the Morning and Partying at Night

Lebanon’s Protests: Cleaning in the Morning and Partying at Night

Monday, 21 October, 2019 - 10:45
Lebanese activists clean a main road in downtown Beirut. AFP photo

Medical student Lynn Abi Khalil, 17, says she could not take part in Lebanon's massive spontaneous protests against the government so instead she picked up gloves and a trash bag.

"I haven't been participating in the demonstrations because my family doesn't want me to," she says, as she collects rubbish in the center of the capital.

"So I'm taking part in a different way," she tells Agence France Presse, wearing a white medical mask.

On Sunday night, hundreds of thousands gathered across the country chanting against what they view as a corrupt and arrogant ruling class unable to lift the country out of its daily economic woes.

In the capital's main square, on Monday morning, the ground is strewn with plastic water bottles, smoldering trash, and the odd red-and-white Lebanese flag.

"Leave now," reads a trampled flyer bearing a picture of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Abi Khalil is one of hundreds of men, women and children who have flocked to the edge of the capital's Martyrs' Square in the early hours to do their part.

On the pavement at the foot of a large mosque, volunteers crouch behind an orderly line of supplies, handing them out to those who have turned up.

In a country infamous for major trash spillovers and sub-standard recycling, there are blue bags for plastic, green for glass and metal, and black for general waste.

Wearing a dark grey T-shirt and backpack, Peter Mouracade has been coming to Martyrs' Square since Saturday morning.

"I went to my kitchen, looked at was inside the cupboard –- plastic bags, gloves -- and I just went down to the streets," says the 39-year-old.

But the volunteer movement has since ballooned as the streets fill day after day with Lebanese from all religious sects and walks of life venting their discontent -- and then also cleaning up.

"From three or five people, we ended up being 50. From 50, we became 500. Today we have thousands of people who are coming," he says.

Mouracade, who is the CEO of the Beirut Marathon, says he and other volunteers mostly find a lot of plastic bottles.

When he first started out on Saturday, it followed a night of several people overturning trash dumpsters and setting them alight, or even breaking shop windows.

"There are a lot of people who are feeling a lot of anger and a lot of pain, that's why there's so much destruction," he adds.

"We need to respect the voice of the people, and our duty is to clean" afterwards.

On the square, female volunteers scoop up piles of used half lemons -- some with rind curling off them -- and burnt trash.

Suheil Hamdan, 49, films them with his mobile phone, seemingly making a video to share on social media.

"This is where corrupt lawmakers and ministers in our country belong -- in the bin bags," he says, a cap on his head to keep off the sun.

Sami Deeb, a 34-year-old, has taken the day off from running his struggling food distribution business.

"We have been on the ground for four days fighting for our rights," he says, dressed in an immaculately pressed pink shirt.

For days, he has been taking part in the protests, which late Sunday evolved into euphoric celebrations complete with humoristic songs, DJs, and traditional dabke dancing.

"We clean in the morning, and we party at night," he says.

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