My first word for Tripoli and Tripolitans on the occasion of this Forum would humbly be “mea culpa”. For decades, we, Beirutis, ignored Lebanon’s second largest city; we did not want to know about its endemic problems, about the rampant poverty, the raging unemployment, the violence, and above all, we never acknowledged the fact that Tripoli had been Lebanon’s forgotten city.
Poverty and exclusion in Tripoli have always been a fact, and I do confess that little did we care, here in Beirut. We would visit other beautiful and, at a time, prosperous cities in the northern region, but we would turn a blind eye to Tripoli and its miseries.
And then, all of a sudden, here comes the “Bride”, right? In the very first days of our very own “October Revolution”, it was clear to everyone that Tripoli was where the real thing happened. It simply stole the show; and we would be the first ones to be surprised to go all the way from Beirut to Al Nour Square to join the buzzing crowd, to chant revolutionary songs and, hey, let’s admit it: to dance to the tunes of now world-famous Tripoli DJ.
We did not find it peculiar to demand the government fall, some 100 km away from the center of power. It all was happening there. Why was it so fascinating? Simply because no one was prepared to witness some of the most beautiful humane acts coming from the most deprived. It was a beautiful image, one of civilized, peaceful protest; we witnessed images of brotherhood, people offering cooked meals for the “revolutionaries” in need of some energy to fuel their protests.
This is why. We were in awe, witnessing the poorest region of Lebanon showing the most courageous yet peaceful way of protesting. Where are we, and where is Tripoli today, 18 months into the Revolution, with what seems to be an endless deadlock, an ever-deepening political, social, and economic crisis, and no end of the tunnel in view?
It is important to note that according to data from the UN back in 2018, the poverty rate in Tripoli was already as close as 57 percent. I do not want to know the figure today. It was already twice as important as the national average, and this average is now certainly moving close to 50 percent.
However, now we are all in this together. There was a time when Tripoli was excluded, marginalized, and known as the hotbed of extremists and terrorist groups. It is not free of violence, and this shall be addressed, but the battle is now a national one, and Tripolitans are no strangers to their fellow citizens’ battle. Of course, it remains an intricate and very sensitive situation, especially with what seems to be a never-ending Syrian refugee crisis, which no one seems to care about or try to address.
We are in this together, because our future as Lebanese is more than ever in jeopardy. Our national identity, the very one that Tripoli showed the world back in 2019, this identity is in jeopardy. Our youth is no longer interested in trying, over and over again, to build and rebuild a country that died a thousand times. They are no longer interested in the few dollars that some corrupt politicians would promise them in exchange for their votes. Because now we all know they lied and they will lie again.
It is in the interest of all the Lebanese to address the case of Tripoli first and foremost. We were fools to believe that we could just let poverty and marginalization happen without it representing an ignition of violence that could threaten our mere existence.
Tripoli can no longer be cited as a city that concentrates billionaires alongside the poorest. We know better now, we know that this can only be an explosive duo. Let’s get back to October 2019, let’s put our strengths together. We should believe we can still do it, and I am confident that we can. And will.