For the past few days, the highways and overpasses of East Beirut have been decked in the orange flags of the ruling Free Patriotic Movement party:
Of course the FPM is not unique in this practice. The unregulated territorialization of public space is a favorite tactic of Lebanese ruling parties, as I have documented in this post featuring a recent campaign by the Lebanese Forces. 
A similar phenomenon is now underway in the Corniche el Mazraa neighborhood, where a dense cluster of blue Future Movement flags were erected on the main thoroughfare and guarded by a few tough-looking characters seated on the curb in plastic chairs. The presence of twin army tanks on either side of the partisans reinforced the tense territorial ambiance. Mazraa, a politically-mixed neighborhood, has been the site of many clashes in recent years. 
Unfortunately I have no picture of the blue men in plastic chairs. I decided against shooting them after being nearly assaulted for doing that last year. 
Rather than contribute to desperately-needed national reconciliation efforts, party street canvasing reinforces sectarian and militia-era boundaries, keeping an unhealthy dose of post-war fear and hatred in the air. 
What’s more, street canvasing feels like a bullying tactic toward politically unaffiliated Lebanese who are fed up with the country’s draconian party practices. These are not your streets, citizens are basically being told. They are owned by the same parties that have wrecked and ruled this country for decades and will continue to do so whenever and wherever they please. 
Recently, when an independent group decided to take its own random street action, erecting a canvas over the same exact highway sign, it was abruptly removed by authorities within hours.
By contrast, the orange flags posted on the top picture have been up for days with little interference from the police. 
And the good news?
Amid this backdrop of polarizing acrimony, yesterday hundreds of young Lebanese marched against the ruling sect-based regime in a rally organized by the secular group Laique Pride. 
The march began in Sanayeh, then moved down through Hamra: 

Ending in Raouche: 

I’m no fan of militant secularism, but the march was refreshing in that it spoke to young people’s desire for change from the fear-driven sect-based system that keeps its virtually unaccountable leaders afloat. 
Unlike most political rallies, there was no aggressive brandishing of party colors or gang-like hand signals. It did have and a mobile drum circle:
Inclusive slogans:
An oven on wheels…
Baking ‘secular Kaak’ (bread) as indicated by the sign:  
And an open mic for young and old:
Here’s a short clip of the march I shot on my phone: 

It was a far cry from a political rally organized by the Future Movement on the same day. Rather than a spontaneous outpouring, I spotted scores of buses, likely hired by political bosses:

The same parking lot was swept clean hours later, when the supposed “popular rally” was dismissed:

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Habib Battah
Habib Battah is an investigative journalist and founder of the news site Battah has covered Lebanon and the Middle East for over 15 years and teaches journalism and media studies at the American University of Beirut. He is a contributor to Monocle, The Guardian, BBC World, Al Jazeera and others, a former fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. Battah's investigative work was recently recognized for outstanding local reporting by the Columbia University Oakes Award for Environmental Reporting. Battah earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. in Near East Studies and Journalism from New York University.


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