Urban Revolutions: Lebanon’s October 2019 Uprising

Mona Fawaz, Isabela Serhan - OCTOBER 2020
One year after Lebanon’s October 17 uprising, Mona Fawaz and Isabela Serhan co-author an essay published by the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, looking back upon the lessons that can be learned from the first months following the protests. 
The essay explores the numerous forms of space appropriation practices that protestors and activists organized in October-December 2019 which the Lebanese authorities had failed to introduce in post-civil-war reconstruction (1975-1990). An example of such failures is Beirut downtown, the center of the 2019 protests, the reconstruction of which was delegated to a private real-estate company – Solidere.  During the weeks of the uprising, activists transformed Beirut’s historic core from a no-man’s land, an exclusive playground of the rich at best, through a new program that includes soup kitchens, free psychiatric clinics, piazzas for regular public debates, performance spaces, and meeting areas, among other functions. Its large-scale abandoned lots, vast parking areas, and wide roads dedicated to cars were brought to life by daily marches where chants recurrently denounced sectarianism, oppression, and capitalism. Other Lebanese cities and districts echoed in solidarity, such as Tyre, Nabatiyeh, Jal El-Dib and Tripoli. By reclaiming shared space, activists were actually reinforcing the building of new political collectivities. The essay also sheds light on a new repertoire of action that is worth dwelling upon and documenting, one that should motivate city planners in this age of rampant privatization. With the compounded effects of a financial collapse, lockdowns and health risks imposed by a pandemic, and an immense explosion that destroyed many parts of Beirut and its port, the nature of the street practices has drastically changed. Yet it is hoped that state and market rule defying transgressive acts would affirm the existence of hopeful collectives capable of imagining alternative tomorrows based on social solidarity and inclusive city-making. Read the full journal article on IJURR’s website.