In a few days, he will enter Parliament through the main door. With the lead bullet stuck in the heart since Aug. 8, 2020. On that day, at a demonstration fueled by fury following the Beirut port explosion, the security forces affiliated with the same Parliament opened fire at the protesters.
Firas Hamdan was shot. While he was admitted at the ICU to undergo an open heart surgery, the surgeons chose not to remove the bullet. Too risky. His scar has become a symbol.
“I don’t know exactly what this bullet is, so I don’t know what the side effects will be. But I am alive, and I will fight until my last breath for the Lebanese to regain their rights and dignity,” said Hamdan, while sitting at a table in a café in the capital.
More than two years since the beginning of the October 2019 thawra (revolution), this lawyer has just achieved a tour de force: winning the Druze seat (with 4,859 votes) in the South III constituency (Bint Jbeil-Nabatieh-Marjayoun-Hasbaya) right under the nose of Marwan Kheireddine (Amal-Hezbollah list, 2,634 votes).
The reputation of his competitor, the chairman of Al-Mawarid bank, former minister of state, brother-in-law and adviser to Lebanese Democratic Party head Talal Arlsan, and a former member of the board of the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL), has certainly benefited him.
“No one will vote for a candidate chosen by Nabih Berri, who represents the bankruptcy and corruption of the banking system,” said a local resident a few weeks before the elections.
But being the opposite of a person like Kheireddine was not enough.
“I am one of those young people from the squares of Hasbaya, Beirut and elsewhere who rose up against a political class that failed and massacred us. The inhabitants of my area know me and recognize themselves in me. My future and my dreams were smashed, my brother had to emigrate and my father, who retired from the army, has his pension gone up in smoke,” Hamdan said.
Without any party’s support
In December 2019, the public learnt for the first time about this lawyer in a gray suit and long hair tied back. He has the ardor of the youth, and determination can be seen in his eyes.
“Despite all the threats, the attacks, the burned tents, this revolution continues and will stand,” he said over the microphone, while he was part of a live studio audience at Marcel Ghanem’s talk show. The MTV host looked with amusement, and somewhat condescendingly, at this bold young man speaking on behalf of the “oppressed, the hungry” and saying he is ready to do anything to bring down the sulta (ruling class).
At the age of 35, Hamdan has become one of the youngest MPs to access Parliament, along with Tony Frangieh and Michel Murr. However, between these two men and him, there is a world of difference. The lawyer has nothing of an heir. Hamdan’s father, Ismael, a former army brigadier general, is from Kfeir, a small predominantly-Druze majority village nestled at the foot of Mount Hermon, 10 minutes away from Hasbaya.
Hamdan grew up in a modest family in Saida, before he moved to Beirut to pursue his studies at the Faculty of Law and Political and Administrative Sciences of the Lebanese University, where he obtained a Master’s degree in private law.
He preserves his ties with his village of origin by joining the youth and development associations at an early age, thereby boosting his interest in politics. When checking his Twitter account in the late 2000s, one would see a young man committed to the Arab Spring and a big football fan.
When the Oct. 17 thawra started, he threw himself into it, most notably in Hasbaya, under the Souk el-Khan tent, in Beirut, and actively advocated for human rights.
He joined the Lawyers Committee for the Defense of Protesters, formed to defend detainees before the military court or the criminal justice system. He was less well known in the media than Melhem Khalaf or Wassef Harakeh, but he worked hard, and spent entire days putting pressure on police stations, documenting violence against protesters and reassuring their families.
In Parliament, this will be the first file to tackle.
“He was by my side during all the critical periods, while many were afraid, he held on, working sleepless nights in the office, in very difficult conditions,” said the newly-elected MP Khalaf.
“We are talking about a trainee lawyer, at the beginning of his career, who, with limited financial means and without having any party behind him, brought down a kingdom of money,” Khalaf added.
Hamdan smiles when speaking of “his mentor:” “I had the honor to work with him, he was our protector.”
While the battle in the street crumbled because of the system’s repression and the economic crisis that has plagued the country, he felt that it was time to take part in the electoral battle. He decided to run in the parliamentary elections, even though he knew he would not be competing on equal terms.
“He is someone who knows what he wants, is down to earth, and who really takes the time to speak to the area’s inhabitants, in a context that is not easy and a sectarian environment that is very attached to traditions,” said Jad Shahrour, communication officer at Samir Kassir Eyes (SKeyes) Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, who is also close to Hamdan.
“We were able to rely on donations, small sums collected here and there, but we had no support, nor any media publicity,” said Hamdan.
Getting elected in these conditions and in a constituency that has been under Hezbollah and Amal’s sway for 30 years, was obviously not an easy task. For weeks, Hezbollah trolls have circulated photomontages showing Hamdan posing in military uniform next to an Israeli flag.
But their scheme turned against them.
“My district is a land of resistance (against Israel), we have paid a high price, and the South has been neglected by the state for decades. We want to rebuild a strong state that will protect our border, before raising the issue of (Hezbollah’s) weapons,” he said, an opinion he shares with another newly-elected MP, who ran on the same list, Elias Jaradeh.
This article was originally published in French by L'Orient-Le Jour.