Fawra | فورة
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Fawra | فورة

The Flag That Wasn’t

Tala Ladki

On May 6th, the date known as Martyr’s day in Lebanon and Syria to commemorate the memory of those executed by Jamal Pasha over 100 years ago, the Martyr’s Square flagpole was brought to life, again. Activists gathered in the early morning of the day to replace Lebanon’s torn-up and burnt Lebanese flag with a brand new flag acting as a symbol of prosperity and a beacon of hope as it flutters in Beirut’s clear sky. What many don’t know is how the first, 54-square-meter flag, saw shelter in Martyr’s Square to begin with

Photo credit to Mourane Matar, November 2019

October 17th, the date seems so distant yet the memory of that day remains fresh in almost everyone’s mind; how could it not? For it was the day thousands of Lebanese people took to the streets to demand what had been unrightfully taken from them back: their right to a decent living. Over the years, the square has never been just a social space for afternoon strolls, Martyr’s Square has always been a second home to different types of protestors. In recent history alone, Martyr’s Square witnessed mass protests from the Cedar Revolution proceeding the assassination of then-prime minister Rafiq El Harir to the tents pitched by rioters in 2006 who demanded the resignation of then-prime minister Fouad El Sanioura. Not to mention that Martyr’s Square was also the hub of the “You Stink” protests during 2015 as well as several small demonstrations that have taken place there throughout the years.

After October 17th, Martyr’s Square became once more, a refuge for protestors with the break of Lebanon’s October revolution. Despite the populous crowds, the graffiti art that had begun filling the empty walls and bourgeois buildings, something remained missing. “It was the third day of the revolution and we had been spending all of our time between Martyr’s Square and Riad El Soloh” said Karma Charafeddine, an active protestor and one of the key people behind the green tent responsible for picking up and recycling trash every morning after mass protests.

Karma Charafeddine

“I noticed that the huge flagpole in Martyr’s Square had no flag while everyone was waving small flags. That’s when I decided to pull my resources to produce the biggest flag possible!”

And so, just like that, Karma made her phone calls and asked around for people to help produce a Lebanese flag big enough to hover over the square. From one connection to the other, Karma was put in contact with several people from all types of backgrounds. One Armenian friend referred her to Tony Kanaan who was able to provide the white and green material for the flag and he, in turn, referred her to Omar Kaskas who was able to provide red material to finish off the flag. It took Karma and all concerned parties around one day to produce the flag and the next day, Karma herself had the honors of riding the lift to attach the flag to the pole.

“It was a very scary experience nonetheless, it was totally worth it. Unfortunately, while we were being lowered, we noticed that the flag didn’t hold.”

Karma and those who were helping her then had to figure out another way to attach the flag to the pole. At this point, a man named Elie Dagher, who works as a cloth butcher, noticed that Karma was struggling and offered her help! Initially, Elie proposed to hang his smaller flag but seeing Karma’s flag and hearing the story behind it, the two decided to erect both flags side by side. Alas, Martyr’s Square had two glorious Lebanese flags fluttering atop it. Through unity among people who were complete strangers at the beginning, Martyr’s Square, which had been void of any national representation for a long time, finally had a flag hovering over protestors.

October 2019

“None of us knew the other when doing this; we were just a bunch of strangers from different backgrounds who came together to put a huge Lebanese flag where it belonged”.

Unfortunately, Karma’s flag had been vandalized during the mass protests by anti-revolution movements who had burnt the flag and attempted to remove it and thereby ended up tearing it. This prompted activist groups to reinstall a new Lebanese flag on Martyr’s Day thereby maintaining a Lebanese flag overhead of the protestors of Martyr’s Square.

Watch the video we did with Karma about The Green Tent initiative here:

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