Inspired by mothers from Chiyah and Ain el-Remmaneh who marched together a few days before in a protest against violence, a group of women walked along the Ring from Achrafieh to Khandak el-Ghamik on Saturday afternoon. Their route covered barely 300 meters, but was full of symbolism. The women crossed what used to be the demarcation line during the civil war, moving from the Christian area in the east to the Muslim area in the west and from a very wealthy neighborhood to a very poor one.
The demonstration was also particularly powerful and intense because public opinion Khandak el-Ghamik––where Amal and Hezbollah have strong support––is mainly hostile to the October 17 protest movement. In recent weeks, the neighborhood has been singled out numerous times as the area where young men on scooters have descended from to attack protesters.
About 200 women of all ages carrying roses and flags, along with a few men and one priest, emphatically rejected the possibility of civil war and interfaith tension. At the entrance of Khandak el-Ghamik, they were greeted by about 30 mothers (mostly veiled) who were also holding flowers and signs with messages of peace. Several TV stations immortalized the extraordinary moment when these women, coming from very different socio-economic backgrounds, hugged each other and pronounced, in unison, their rejection of violence. One both sides, the women said: "We are mothers, and we do not want our children to kill each other.”
Whenever possible, sensitive subjects were avoided, and people refrained from talking politics. But at some point, one of the mothers from the neighborhood, overwhelmed with emotion, burst out in joy: "It's too beautiful. All these flowers are for the Sayyed (Hassan Nasrallah).” All around her, the smiles were tense.
The Welcoming Committee
Sometimes, the strength and the beauty of symbols are simply not enough. In addition to the mothers, the welcoming committee was also composed of thirty young men, all dressed in black, with folded arms and furrowed brows. "What is this mess? They have nothing to do here. I have no idea why rais (president) Berry has allowed them to come,” one of the men said with annoyance. He admitted to taking part in the attacks against the protesters, who he said were “drugged thugs who blocked access to the neighborhood”.
The women from the Christian side of the Ring insisted on continuing their march inside Khandak and were chanting “Kazdoura! Kazdoura!” (Stroll! Stroll!). The young man, who was not happy with the march, grew more agitated: "A stroll? What do they want to see? Poor people? Animals? What is the deal here? They will not go through!”
Even though not explicitly spoken, the class conflict was extremely palpable. With sarcasm and disdain, teenagers took pleasure in imitating people who speak French or English. Many mothers from the neighborhood unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with young people who were blocking the road. Older men, including high-ranking members of the Amal party, attempted to act as go-betweens. Youssef Kabalan, the local leader of the party, reassured the women that there is no feeling of resentment against them and that the road issue is only a matter of security.
"We do not control everything. We do not know what could happen inside,” he said. He explained that some young people are very angry and that even their elders are not able to control them. Negotiations went on, and some marchers decided to turn back. The more stubborn protestors ended up winning: the people who blocked access to the neighborhood decided to leave, with obvious dissatisfaction.
"It is none of your business if I choose to go to the demonstration”
A small group of about a hundred people entered the streets of Khandaq. A gray-haired man said he used to come here to play as a child and that he has not returned since the war. For many, it was their first visit to the neighborhood. Some were surprised by the architecture of the buildings while others were saddened by their shabbiness.
On the balconies, some families watched; others cheered, waved flags or threw rice. After walking for about 20 minutes, everyone came back to the starting point. A man from the neighborhood admitted that it went much better than he had expected. A blonde woman replied that she too had thought that "it would be worse".
The demonstrators headed back to the Ring along with some mothers from Khandak. A man called out to them, ironically asking: "Hey! Are you also on your way to the demonstration?” "No, we're going to buy meat!” a woman responded sarcastically. "And it is none of your business if I choose to go to the demonstration,” she added The man tried to smile, without much success.
Ultimately, the women do not go to the demonstration. They continue until the end of the road and then turn around, returning to their neighborhood. It’s getting dark. The man looks relieved.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 2nd of December)