Beirut-based writer Marina Chamma has compiled a personal photo essay that touches on everything from garbage collection to civil war. What we love the most is the little story she provides behind each photo. It's a must-read.
Fouad Chehab for President: As Lebanon’s parliament gathered in its first session to elect the country’s next president on April 23, 2014, General Fouad Chehab’s presidential campaign pictures were plastered throughout Beirut. Problem is, even though he served as president in 1958-1964, Chehab died in 1973. It turned out that the mock campaign was orchestrated by a group of anonymous Lebanese, who believed, as many others, that a dead president was better than any potential living candidate, who would undoubtedly lack the qualities Chehab had. Since April 2014, Lebanon’s parliament has still been unable to elect a president.
Enforcing the “Law”: A soldier holds a baton, standing behind barbed wire, facing angry yet peaceful crowds protesting the illegal extension of Lebanon’s parliament mandate on June 21, 2013. Having still failed to pass any badly needed legislation, including a modern electoral law to date, there are rumors parliament may be planning to give itself yet another extension before the end of 2014. Local activists and campaigners, including political organization “For the Republic,” have already launched their second #NotoExtension campaign.
Electricity Switchboard: An uncovered electricity switchboard run by a private generator in the middle of the road in Beirut. Due to outdated infrastructure, ever-increasing demand and highly subsidized electricity, Lebanon has experienced electricity cuts for years. Citizens compensate for insufficient power from public utility EDL by subscribing to private generators located in almost every neighborhood.
As EDL incurs around $2 billion in losses every year, citizens pay two electricity bills and live with the catastrophic environmental and health hazards of having electricity generators all year round in each and every corner of the city.
Children in Tripoli: Two children in Tripoli’s Old Souks. Lebanon’s second largest city, Tripoli along with Northern Lebanon is one of the poorest areas of the country. The spillovers of the Syrian crisis exacerbated sectarian tensions among parts of the city’s anti-Syrian regime predominantly Sunni population and the pro-Bashar Assad Alawite community. Children have also been caught in the middle of the fighting, being used by street fighters in their petty wars, even though the situation has calmed down for the time being. But will this have made of the children of Tripoli a lost generation?
“When will the Civil War end?”: Graffiti on a Beirut wall reads, “When will the Civil War end? Down with the sectarian system.” Throughout the years, many have argued that although the guns of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 have gone silent, this doesn’t mean that the civil war has truly ended. A lot of what incited the civil war, including social inequality, government corruption and more importantly the sectarian system, is as entrenched today as ever before. Most of the warlords who fought during the war, primarily defined by their confession, are also still ruling till this day…
The Ruins of Anjar: For years, the very mention of the word Anjar brought chills down the spines of most Lebanese. Only minutes away from the Lebanese-Syrian border, Anjar was the headquarters of Syrian intelligence, the head of which was the country’s de facto ruler for the better part of Syria’s 30-year occupation of Lebanon. Anjar was known as a required stop for Lebanese political prisoners being taken to Syria (many of which are still unaccounted for) and is believed to be where one of many mass graves are located.
However, with its peaceful population, most of which are of Armenian origin, it also hosts a beautiful array of Umayyad-date ruins. Flanked by the Eastern Lebanon Mountain Range, Anjar is a key destination in its own right, and one that many Lebanese themselves have never visited.
Garbage Collection: I am certainly no proponent of using the cell phone for any purpose while driving, but had to make an exception this time. I was stuck behind this garbage truck in Beirut, and watched while these foreign workers did the job locals would refrain from doing, keeping my city clean. As this worker finished empting a garbage can on the corner of the road, the copy of The Economist magazine somehow landed on his hands.
He picked it up and got back on the truck.It was the edition with Indian PM Narendra Modi on the cover and the worker read on until his next stop. Private company Sukleen has a monopoly over waste collection in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, with much controversy surrounding it and the way it gets its contracts renewed, due to high level political backing. But I can’t but respect its workers…
Traffic Police at Work: With driving being the unofficial national pastime, and irresponsible driving, poor roads and loosely enforced traffic laws and speed limits the bane of people’s everyday existence, you’d think traffic police would have a very tough job in Lebanon. Problem is, in the midst of so much to handle, there is little they can actually do.
The fact that the police – aka the Internal Security Forces (ISF) – are seen as politically biased, ineffective and not highly regarded by the general population, also doesn’t help them in carrying their tasks effectively. If only this police officer knew he was being captured on camera, I’m sure he would have stricken an even nicer pose.
Martyrs Square: The Martyrs’ Square statue is probably one of the most recognizable symbols of Beirut. The fact that it’s riddled with bullets is also a reminder of what Lebanon is usually known for: war. The statue was inaugurated in 1960, to remember those who revolted against Ottoman authorities in 1916 and were hanged as a result. Many people have fallen and continue to fall in the name of Lebanon, and the statue still stands in honor of them all.
Had it not been for this statue, Beirut’s downtown would have been unrecognizable to those who knew it in its former glory. Private company Solidere took it upon itself to reconstruct Beirut’s downtown, destroying almost everything that made the area truly beautiful. Beirut will be truly lucky if the statue is kept, for if we aren’t constantly reminded of our tumultuous past, there is no other way to stop us from repeating the same mistakes in the future.
Mothers of the Disappeared: Until this day, there are around 17,000 Lebanese still unaccounted for, thought to have disappeared during and after the 1975-1990 Civil War. Some are believed to have been taken as political prisoners to Syria (which occupied Lebanon from 1976-2005), while others would have been abducted by local militias during the war and never heard from again.
In 2000, the Lebanese Government recognized the existence of three mass graves and in 2013, relatives of the disappeared and activists lead by NGO Act for the Disappeared toured these sites in and around Beirut. It is a tragedy that brings Lebanese from all walks of life and religious backgrounds together, but something that doesn’t seem enough to bring this painful chapter of the war to an end.