Ac­tress stum­bles into the role of a life­time as protesters’ ‘flag queen’

The National - News - - NEWS - Sunniva Rose

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

Na­tional.

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.”

Na­tional Fin­bar An­der­son for The

Fey­rouz Abou Has­san said she does not lend out her flag as some­one else may use it as a weapon

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