A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Communist Corner

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 2, 2008

On our way out of the city yesterday, H and I were compelled to detour by a Communist Party protest at the intersection of Spears and the street that comes up from the Phoenicia (can’t remember its name). The ISF soldiers on duty had the unpleasant task of turning aside cars whose drivers insisted on continuing on to Barbar despite the barricades. Needless to say, the one we spoke with – who, like Lebanon’s maids, was not benefiting from a Labor Day holiday – was less than supportive of the Communists.

We took a few photographs and continued on our drive without thinking much of the protest. It was small – colorful, thanks to the half-Lebanese flag, half-USSR flag that the protesters carried, but definitely small.

When I scanned my Google Alerts this afternoon, I realized that the protest must have been larger than we thought. Agence France Presse published an article devoted to it, and LBC covered the protest on its news broadcast this morning as well.

Here is the AFP article:

BEIRUT (AFP) — Hundreds of Lebanese protested against inflation on Thursday at a May Day rally organised by the communist party, demanding an increase in the minimum monthly wage.

Earlier this year Lebanon’s General Confederation of Workers (CGTL) called for the minimum wage to be tripled from 300,000 Lebanese pounds (200 dollars) to 900,000 pounds.

According to the consumer association prices have risen by 43 percent over the past 21 months, while the official unemployment rate stands at 10 percent. Independent estimates put it at 20 percent.

Up to 2,000 people took part in the protest, brandishing banners with anti-government slogans, while one group carried a giant loaf of bread to symbolise the rising cost of the staple.

“Where is Foufou? Is he eating a hungry man’s bread?” asked one banner, referring to Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

“Hunger kills more than the power vacuum,” said another.

Lebanon has been without a president since November because of a standoff between Siniora’s Western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition supported by Syria and Iran.

Here is the photo that accompanied the article:

It looks a bit more densely populated than the protest as I remember it, but perhaps that is the result of viewing it from the back and side, rather than the front.

In contrast to the AFP photo, I am pasting in two that I took.

Here is the view from Spears, zooming in from just before Barbar:

And here is the view from the Phoenicia road, just before the turn west onto Masraf/Hamra:

I’m not sure that the fire truck was really necessary – but it did fit well with the red theme.

And I suppose it made sense that they protested on Spears: a bit further west, near Zico House, there are a whole slew of graffiti hammer and sickles painted on the exterior walls of one side street building. H and I call it “Communist Corner”, and joke that it is the one “area” that the Communists hold in today’s Beirut.

This is the Lebanese Communist Party’s flag:

The flag drives H nuts, because it so closely resembles the Lebanese flag. There should be laws here like there are in the US, he said as we snaked our way around Hamra.

I’m trying to imagine the effects of adding a no-desecrating-the-flag law to Lebanon’s usual political mess. But which flag? and what would count as desecration? Surely driving down the highway with a banner-sized flag hanging out the window is one form – and politicians giving three-hour press conferences in front of another mega-flag must be another.

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