October 17 Youth: In Our Own Eyes We Became Leaders
*Researcher in Human Rights
“I am the leader of the Revolution,” a phrase affixed to all the walls of Beirut. Suddenly, in our own eyes we became Leaders. This artistic gesture came to respond to the offense against the October Revolution because it had no leadership. The uprising that shook the throne of the ruling authority for months adopted a slogan of strategic nature: “No Leadership, no Negotiation”. Actually, it did not include a strategy, since no date was set to mark the birth of a leadership to change the equation.
The rejection of leadership has reached its peak, creating hostility between yesterday’s comrades, because each party desired to take over the leadership or to talk “in the name of the street”. The Intifada witnessed many bright positions for many days, which led to the rejection of every attempt to establish a front or coordination body that aims to a leadership role. In their discourse, the parties that “joined the street” confirmed that they were not speaking in the name of the revolution or the revolutionaries, which emphasized the differentiation between the trends in the street and the opinion of the political entities, even in cases of congruence, just to exclude the charge of “leadership”.
On the other hand, we have witnessed the emergence of action tools and promotion of views and positions that reinforce the state of no leadership. Political entities did not call jointly for action. Instead, the invitation came from an unidentified source and was shared and promoted by actors. The same way is used to promote for resolutions and positions of a political or “tactical” dimension: Will the road blockages continue, how will the resignation of Hariri’s government be dealt with, and other critical matters.
The rejection of the leadership and the idyll surrounding this rejection during the October Revolution prompted questions about its background. These questions preluded the reflection on the crisis of leading this opposition in such a complex system like the one running Lebanon.
The rejection of leadership is primarily related to previous bad experiences. Before discarding any experience with the revolution leaders, i.e., the opposition leaders, the priority remains to the experience with the leadership of the State, the ruling authority. Unlike the neighboring countries, Lebanon is managed by discordant but allied leaderships at the same time, or in more practical words, by a multitude of leaders united to command. The ruling system benefits from the plurality of leaders who establish separation and hostility among their followers. In return, they reap the fruits of this hostility on the leadership table, where the cake is laid to be shared. The leader in this equation should meet specific criteria, the “chief” ‘s standards. The chief ‘s most important role is to protect his followers. As long as one leader’s followers stir up fear and the sense of danger among the followers of the other leader, then the need for both leaders becomes even more urgent to maintain balance. For the followers, leadership is a vague concept based on a combination of reasons, foundations, and old fears. This confusion is not limited to the followers of one leader but applies to all those who live within this system and deal daily with its contradictions. This is how this profoundly rooted discontent can be depicted. It is one of the deep emotions that a vast majority of those who grew up under this system will agree on. This rejection is also reflected in the radical rejection of a bilateral form of ruling based on a government (leadership) and opposition (observing leadership), in exchange of a ferocious defense of “leader/chief”.
The other aspect of the experience with leadership is called: The parachute mechanisms. It is more relevant to the opposition. One of the mistakes of the opposition movements that withdrew from the organized political work for a whole generation is that they have returned to this field with the aim of changing the regime. They do so by projecting their vision on the public opinion and imposing it. For example, in 2015, the movement against landfills flagrantly raised the issue of leadership. At that time, the “campaigns” became the leader of the movement, in the sense that they have the power to decide, to say yes or no, to determine the gatherings and their ethics to a certain point that riots were considered an act of treason and purely immoral. This experience led to the exclusion of social groups from the street and the denial of their right to resist, at that time, against the Authority. It has also led to consecrating a competitive, harmful, individualist approach. This is how we moved from the street stage that gives legitimacy, to sudden moves that do not, according to any indication, reflect the street desires. The movement moved from popular rally in the squares to a race for surprise moves here and there, which excluded people not within the campaigns from participating in resisting the Authority and turned them into crowds. This approach remained with no strategy to justify itself in front of the same “crowds”.
The street has tested the concept of leadership that confiscates opinion and orientation. This is a perfect reason to reject the leadership. This is also an environment favorable for a void in the leadership crisis on the side of the opposition. It is a fact today that the October Revolution has laid many foundations that will contribute in the future in restoring the concept of leadership from the leadership/chiefship quagmire. Embracing non-leadership and decentralization opened the way to the projection of the idea that suggests that “no sound is louder than that of the battle”. This idea denies the fact that people’s issues cannot be separated from one another and that they are intertwined and intricately. It is worth noting the challenge facing the opposition in arranging and identifying points of contact between the multiple battles, years after witnessing the different battles fading away into separate projects run through non-governmental organizations. Today, all civil societies and the opposition are responsible for compiling the map in a way that contributes to drawing the features of the comprehensive plan and those of the related battle strategies. This entity must assume leadership responsibilities before becoming a leader.
This workshop needs to frame its outputs through modern political organizations that confront traditional and sectarian parties. Decentralization is, therefore, very important since capital-based organizations are no longer effective, while the balance is tilted in favor of organizations in which individuals from different regions are organized and active within their geographical regions. By doing so, we ensure that people in rural areas and the periphery are not marginalized when building an alternative system.
Intersectionality and political decentralized alignment are a fundamental guarantee to protect the demands of historically marginalized groups in the Lebanese system and prevent any further marginalization and encroachment on their rights. For example, today, it is not acceptable that an emerging leadership would only consider women’s issues as demands. Women’s issues and demands must be on the map, just like other demands. Women themselves must be part of the leadership, present, and engaged in decision making. Today, there is no place for a unifying leadership that excludes women.
Keeping the 17 October Revolution without leadership has inevitable positive aspects. What type of leadership would it have produced in the early days of the uprising? Can anyone imagine anything other than new chiefs at that stage? Nevertheless, any choice of chiefship today is going to be deadly, sooner or later. Having no leadership for such a long period of political movement and turmoil eliminated any possible guardianship over minds and transformed individuals’ daily lives into a continuous political workshop, which compensated for decades of shortfall in this area. This unorganized workshop has now reached a stage where it can define the parameters of a clearly and more accurately hostile system to the people: a mafia and militia system, patriarchal and policing; a male-dominated, sectarian, oligarch, thief, corrupt system not worthy of any confidence. This description is very close to the truth, but it is not the whole truth. For example, the opposition discourse does not show how “racist” this system is. Despite the shortcomings, it became possible to raise this reality to the surface. The more the system becomes clear for the opposition, the more compelling it becomes to develop a leadership that handles the management of the battle and devises its strategies.