Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Politics as an artistic performance or a happening

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/04/2010

Three thousand participants. That’s quite a number for an artistic performance. And let’s not forget the viewers who saw images of this event on their TVs or in their mail box. The organisers should be proud of their achievement. I truly believe that this activity should have been integrated to Ashkal Alwan’s forum on Cultural Practices “Home Works 5” (more on that in the coming days). But how significant is it politically? what meaning does it have? and what does it say about our politics?

The political significance of an artistic performance
As expected, the 4 months of preparations weren’t enough to clarify the message and the demands of this demonstration. People joined with no contraints, no program, no structure… only one common enemy “al-ta2ifya”, a Lebanese catch-word that is used to describe everything that’s wrong in the country. Each person could bring along his or her banner, board or sign; shout the slogans we’ve been hearing for almost a century with the impression that something revolutionary and new was being done.
This show-performance reminded me of those that I very willingly (and happily) attended in 2005: the midweek and the thematic sunday marches. They were less participatory (everything was prepared for us) and consequently more uniform (at least visually). But the feel-good atmosphere, the self-satisfaction that exuded from them was present today. But back in 2005, these performances enjoyed a large political support (i.e. they were sponsored by first rank politicans on both sides of the spectrum) and were organised with the help of Ad agencies (which made them visually very appealing and gave their cristal clear slogans a very sexy edge).
But these demonstrations gathered hundreds of thousands of people and reached a million on several occasions. They gave people the impression that their voice matters and that they not only could express themselves freely, but that this public expression of opinion could have a significant effect. For a very long time, the Lebanese were prevented from taking to the streets. Rafic Hariri prevented any kind of social protest, and the Syrians banned all political protests. The 2005 demonstrations signified that things had changed. People could once again demonstrate, voice their complaints and even bring governments down (or is this restricted to governments headed by Omar Karamé, a guy who holds two titles: son of a Prime Minister like Saad H. and martyr’s brother like Bahia H.). The downside of these demonstrations was their numbers. They were so monstrously high that they dwarfed demonstrations of other kinds, making them politically insignificant. That was the paradox of the 2005 demonstrations. They opened up the public space to social and political mobilisation while practically restricting them to two players: Mustaqbal and Hezbollah.


There is nothing wrong with artistic performances. Calling Laïque Pride by that name is in no way demeaning. Performances are mant to express something before an audience, something meaningful, to intrigue the public, to engage it. And that’s exactly what Laïque Pride achieved. It also showed the limits of political protests without big sponsors and ad agencies. It also showed that demonstrating against the most shared prejudice in Lebanon (الطائفية), the biggest political insult that is used against a politician or a system  (طائفي) can only mobilise a limited number of people. Could Laïque Pride have been anything more than an artistic performance? Probably not.


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