Actress stumbles into the role of a lifetime as protesters’ ‘flag queen’
Feyrouz Abou Hassan became a symbol of Lebanon’s protests after carrying the same oversized national flag every day since demonstrations started on October 17.
Despite her slender figure, Ms Abou Hassan is easy to spot in the crowd.
Known as the “flag lady”, the actress has become a fixture at the protests.
Repaired countless times, her flag, now looking slightly battered after 28 days of use, sports a small knot at the top.
“I make sure to never go out without it. It is a reminder.
“I always hold it high to remember that this is what we
are fighting for,” she told The
For Ms Abou Hassan and other protesters, the large flag symbolises the unity they aspire to in a country where religious and political ties often take precedence over civic ones.
“She is our flag queen. Whenever we see this flag, with its metal rod and knot at the end, we know she is here, and we feel safe,” said Guy Younes, 29, a civil engineer protesting with Ms Abou Hassan at a roadblock in a Beirut suburb.
“During the first three days of the protests, I had a small flag. Then I realised everyone else had one too, so I wanted a bigger one,” said Ms Abou Hassan with a laugh. She said she bought her flag in Beirut’s city centre for $26 (Dh95).
Lebanon has been rocked by several large protests since the end of the civil war in 1990, but the latest ones are unprecedented.
For the first time, Lebanese people have taken to the streets with only one symbol in their hand: their red and white flag with the green cedar tree.
Those flying the colours of political parties are kicked out.
For protesters, waving the Lebanese flag symbolises their overwhelming rejection of the ruling elite that has governed Lebanon for decades and brought it, they say, to financial ruin.
“For once, we do not see different-coloured flags that represent different parties or religions. We are trying to kill sectarianism,” said Melissa Fathallah, 41, a catering manager, watching Ms Abou Hassan wave her flag at a sit-in in front of the Palace of Justice.
In the northern city of Tripoli, which has become a protest hot spot, people took down pictures of politicians to replace them with Lebanese flags.
The move, largely unheard of in a country where people depend on the support of political leaders as a substitute for state services, earned widespread sympathy from protesters across the nation.
Because power sharing in Lebanon is dependent on sect, political parties are also closely linked to the religious group they represent.
But chants demanding that all politicians resign, such as the popular “all of them means all of them”, also made others defensive. Men took to the streets in threatening motorcades, flying their party’s flags to show their allegiance to their leaders.
“You’re always going to have certain people that stand by their political parties no matter what,” Ms Fathallah said.
“But if you have this many people protesting on the ground then obviously the majority is against this. We are very tired of being different sects, different people. We just want to be friends.”
Ms Abou Hassan’s flag gained some notoriety last month when she fiercely defended it as the police tried to break up a sit-in she took part in on a Beirut motorway.
“I pushed the police away with it by placing it in front of their face,” she said. “That was the first day that people started noticing the flag.”
Symbolism aside, the flag’s long metal rod also makes Ms Abou Hassan feel safe.
“I’m untouchable. The police are scared of the metal bar. If they want to remove me now, they put their hands on the flag and drag me out. They take me and my flag out together,” she said. Despite its potential to cause harm, Ms Abou Hassan said that she has never used the flag as a weapon. And she will not lend it out.
“I do not trust anyone with it because they might use it to attack someone,” she said.
What people rarely notice is that her flag is flawed – the size of the cedar tree and the width of the red strips are both wrong.
She shrugged and laughed about it. “It’s a fake flag but it’s a true flag too, you know.”
Feyrouz Abou Hassan said she does not lend out her flag as someone else may use it as a weapon