Politics Column Analysis Politics

#NotAMartyr: Lebanon's Protest Selfies

Kirstin Sonne discusses how the selfie has become a new form of protest in Lebanon.

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Photo Credit: Yoniw
Photo Credit: Yoniw

On December 27th, 16-year-old Mohammed Chaar and his friends casually posed for a picture together in the centre of Beirut. Seconds later, a golden SUV seen in the background of the photo exploded, killing Chaar and at least 5 others, and leaving his friends and around 70 more people injured.

The car bomb was targeting Mohamad Chatah, member of the Sunni Muslim party, former Lebanese minister of finance, and close associate of ex-Prime Ministers Rafik and Saad Hariri. Since Chatah was a leading politician and considered a promising candidate for the role of Prime Minister, media coverage of the attack focused mostly on his death.

However, friends of 16-year-old Chaar were determined not to let his untimely death pass unnoticed amongst the many other civilian casualties Lebanon has suffered in recent years, and 2 days later, initiated the #NotAMartyr Campaign. The campaign was named in protest against the term 'shahid', which translates as martyr, and is used as an honorary title by politicians, religious leaders and the media to describe victims of political attacks such as Chatah.

Now young people from all over Lebanon and the Middle East are participating in the campaign to voice their indignation with the way violence is normalized, but also to raise awareness of the anguish Lebanese people must deal with on a daily basis.

Using Twitter and Facebook (their page has received over 8,000 likes in the past two weeks), the campaign aims to be a platform where people can "express their frustration", and have a conversation "away from the constant discouragement of our political apparatus".

In commemoration of Chaar, people are encouraged to use the selfie-format. Hundreds have responded with photos of themselves, mostly holding signs that read messages of fear and frustration.

"I don't want to guess which neighbourhood my loved ones will be murdered in", one sign reads. Another demands: "I want to proudly call myself Lebanese!" The many selfies that have now been uploaded express a common ideal: making Lebanon a safer, fairer and better place to live.

But the problems Lebanese people are facing relate to wider conflicts affecting the entire Middle East. The attack on Chatah took place a day after he tweeted that "#Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security & foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 yrs."

He was referring to the period from the 1970s to 1990, during which Lebanon was engaged in civil war and was occupied by Syrian forces. Syria was forced to move out of Lebanon in 2005, when the death of Sunni ex-PM Rafik Hariri by the Pro-Syrian Shia movement Hezbollah sparked further protests and bloodshed across Lebanon.

However, Syria continues to exert power in Lebanon through the Hezbollah, and the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War has only made tensions between the Shiites and Sunnis in Lebanon worse, with both sides frequently resorting to violent measures.

In the meantime, the people of Lebanon are tired of their country being the battleground for international and religious conflicts. The #NotAMartyr Campaign is yet another example of people across the Middle East using social media to come together and express their frustration; we can only hope that this time, it will finally make a difference.

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