The Writing is On the Wall in Beirut


© Changiz M. Varzi

January 31, 2016 16:33 EDT

Last year’s demonstrations in Beirut have not solved the garbage crisis in the Lebanese capital. [Click the image above or scroll down to view the mini gallery.]

Downtown Beirut is known for its fancy shops, luxury restaurants and expensive apartments that no one can afford. This district, which is secured by security forces and the Lebanese army, was famous for not having any street art or graffiti on its walls. But that’s no longer the case.

In summer 2015, with thousands of people descending on the center of Beirut and marching toward Lebanon’s parliament and governmental buildings, the armed soldiers couldn’t protect the walls from graffiti.

Protests in Lebanon began in response to the government’s failure to address a mounting waste management crisis. Soon, the focus shifted from the garbage standoff to the sectarian nature of the Lebanese government and high-level corruption in administrative quarters. Even though the activists and residents of Beirut have not seen their demands met, the forbidden part of the Lebanese capital still exposes their mottos and political slogans.

Today, Arabic and English slogans cover the walls of downtown Beirut. The governmental buildings, cement blocks, and jewelry and wedding shops all showcase the demands for political change in Lebanon.

This new wave of graffiti is heavily based on writing and stencil work. During the Lebanese Civil War, the different warring factions used the same techniques to mark their territory and display their slogans. But today, sectarianism does not divide the activists and graffiti artists. During the 2015 social movement, activists from different social and sectarian backgrounds united to hold the Lebanese government to account.

Apart from downtown, the messages and artwork of anti-corruption activists are visible in both East and West Beirut. During the civil war between 1975 and 1990, the two zones were separated due to sectarian differences. The European equivalent for this new wave of street art in Beirut would be London’s graffiti writings during the 1970s.

Those who spray the recent works on Beirut’s walls are from a different background compared to the famous Lebanese street artists. Most graffiti artists in the country are from the higher class of society and usually avoid direct political messages. Today, what we see on Beirut’s walls is mostly written or created by the middle-class.

The new graffiti writings in downtown Beirut have opponents, but this new eruption of words on the city’s walls demonstrates the real needs, wishes and demands of Lebanese people.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Changiz M. Varzi

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