On the night of Tuesday, February 4th, the front of a restaurant in Beirut resembled very much a modernized version of Roman arena games.
As a feasting group of government officials and partisans inhaled hookah smoke and watched the action unravel from their comfortable couches behind the large shaded glass of Diwan Beirut, hell broke loose on the street, meters away from their merry gathering.
Ziad Assouad, a member of the Lebanese Parliament affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), was dining with a group of FPM partisans at Diwan Beirut in Antelias. The group included MP Edy Maalouf; also affiliated with the same party.
Upon knowing about it, a group of protesters, in a continuation of their untitled campaign of no-politicians-in-public-spaces, began showing up at the entrance of the restaurant.
The edge of the table at which Assouad and his group were seated was directly in contact with the large panel of tempered glass that offered the best view of the street outside; the MP’s chair was also positioned at the edge of that table, inches away from the glass.
His position proved convenient for the rallying protesters. They stood right at the opposite side of the panel, blocking his view and showering him with classic calls of “for shame” and the likes of “you dine in a fancy restaurant while the people you’re supposed to represent are starving on their feet.”
Naturally, the chants of the protesters, whose numbers were steadily increasing, agitated the MP. And coincidentally, a group of pro-FPM counterprotesters rushed to aid their representer. They stormed the front of the restaurant and clashed with the protesters.
Fights broke out between Assouad’s supporters and personal bodyguards on one hand, and his opposers on the other, upon which security forces and Lebanese Army reinforcements were called into the area to separate the brawlers and restore stability to the area.
The Lebanese Red Cross reported 1 injury from the protesters’ side after the fighting was over. Throughout the encounter and in its aftermath, the dining group of 8 remained seated at their table inside the restaurant.
When they eventually decided to leave, the security forces escorted them outside to avoid further escalations.
Thereafter a video began circulating social media of MP Ziad Assouad commenting on the event at the table. “A message to all the Lebanese,” Assouad boasted, “we are the well-mannered; we are those who do not assault anyone; we are the ones who have ethics…”
He went on to say: “And we are the ones who go wherever we desire freely.” He then praised “the youth of the Free Patriotic Movement” and President Michel Aoun.
Finally, he declared: “No one evicts us from a restaurant, nor a house, nor a street.” He addressed the protesters advising them to “not play with us from now on; joking is over,” before sitting down again and grabbing his hookah pipe.
It’s kind of weird that he deemed the protests of a suffering people against the officials a “joke.”
Another less-than-well-mannered video that originated from the same table became trending on social media in Lebanon along with the hashtags #Ziad_Assouad and its rivaling #Ziad_Pavement_Assouad.
The video showed the feasting group raising their drinking glasses and saying the Lebanese version of “cheers” to the FPM.
This was before one of the members vulgarly followed it with a tasteless play on words that formulated an insult to the protesters.
On one hand, the FPM supporters who took to Twitter to defend the Member of Parliament insisted on his right to go out freely into public places without his private life being infringed on by the protesters or anyone else.
The protesters, however, maintain that as long as he remains a member of the unwanted government, his every action remains under their scrutiny and criticism.
That is because, as their position entails, he has a responsibility towards the Lebanese people that he is not performing.
In other words, as long as there are starving people in Lebanon, Lebanese politicians and government officials will not be allowed to go out and dine undisturbed in fancy restaurants.
And if they’re not up to the challenge of delivering what they owe to their brothers and sisters in this nation, they may simply resign and pass the torch to someone who can perform the job efficiently.
After all, it is just a job, but it’s one that comes with great responsibility and – only in a minority of developing countries – with considerable power that often blinds some of its claimants.