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Gino Raidy on the frontline

Beirut Insight

Minute after minute, from one demonstration to another, the raucous and provocative blogger has been documenting the events that have been shaking up Lebanon since October 17 and has been acting as the raw, razor-sharp spokesperson for the angry youth who are also leading this revolution digitally with the click of a button.

What makes the Lebanese uprising both unifying and unlike any previous movement, besides the fact that it has revealed a new social fabric beyond the barriers of sectarianism and allegiances to traditional political leaders? The uprising is a true digital revolution led and supported by Generation Y.

It is impossible to look back on the past two weeks without examining the deep impact of Lebanon’s millennials. With their smartphones, young people have been responsible for documenting and showing the world the radical changes taking place even while the uprising has garnered minimal coverage in a large part of the foreign press. It is also impossible not to have come across Gino Raidy’s cheeky, satirical and at times controversial Instagram posts that have flooded social networks documenting what is taking place since October 17.

From one extreme to the other

It’s a bit unsettling meeting Raidy, 29, after seeing his digital image online. He is the same in real life as on screen. Raidy doesn’t mince his words and isn’t afraid of anything, especially not while pursuing his crusade against the State. He is unrestrained, using the same harsh, but powerful jokes that he posts on his digital platforms. He often uses crude language, some of which cannot be printed here. "I am angry at those leaders who are only resorting to gas lighting, this type of mental abuse through which information is distorted in the purpose of making us doubt ourselves. They want us to swallow a camel, and to me this is totally unacceptable. I cannot keep quiet," he says.

Raidy was not born a revolutionary or a satirist. "I was a pure product of a fundamentally patriarchal and conservative environment and everything that derives from it, and which I simply loathe today. The period I spent at AUB was the catalyst for my change. It was a real journey of initiation whose beginnings I will never forgo, even if they are at the opposite end of the person I have become today,” says Raidy.

After graduating with a degree in biology, Raidy shifted to working in advertising and copywriting in 2010. Around the same time, he started “Gino’s Blog”, originally to share his opinions on Lebanese restaurants, bars and other entertainment spots, and soon developed a loyal audience. He was active with the NGO March Lebanon and began addressing "subjects about the streets and about the daily lives of Lebanese citizens that other media tend to relegate to the background” in posts spiced with sarcasm and provocation on his blog and also on his Instagram, where he has more than 55,000 followers.

Raid was starting to lose faith in the resilience of his compatriots, but when wildfires broke out in mid-October, he predicted there would soon be an awakening of the Lebanese people. “This was a turning point,” he says. “In light of these incidents, not only did we get to witness all the incompetence and the incapacity of our system, but above all, we were reminded of the extent to which the Lebanese people care for each other and that, when they work hand-in-hand spontaneously, they do so in a fast and efficient way, and accomplish everything the State has promised to do for decades, but has failed in doing."

Without filters

The announcement of a tax on WhatsApp on Thursday, Oct. 17, was “a total insult to our intelligence,” according to Raidy. “I could not believe that they even wanted to penalize people on the ways they had found to circumvent the government’s own shortcomings, namely, in this case, the exorbitant phone bills.”

When the plan was announced, Raidy was enjoying some downtime in the village of Lehfed. "But when I saw what was going on in Nabatieh and in Zgharta, my hometown, where the rubbish is being buried, shamelessly, I realized that something fundamental and different from all the previous times was about to happen,” Raidy says. “Without thinking, I grabbed my phone and I headed to Beirut.”

Since that night, Raidy hasn’t left the protests in Beirut except to go to Zouk and Tripoli to give his support to protestors there. "My admiration goes first to those revolutionaries who were mobilized outside of Beirut. What beautiful lessons we got from people in Tripoli. Even more so the ones from Baalbek and Nabatieh who had the courage to take risks in order to free themselves from their submission to one leader, to have chosen instead to pledge allegiance to their country,” Raidy says. “I have a lot of respect for those who had the courage to get out of the ranks in order to free themselves from a political family determinism, especially when it is a very anchored one."

Raidy is attached to his sense of audacity and provocation, which he considers his “most precious tool of the last two weeks". With his posts constantly being liked and shared, he moves according to the news of the day, from one protest to the next, one checkpoint to the next, from dusk till dawn, always on the frontlines with a teargas mask close by. He’s always on the lookout for the slightest statement or altercation, which he immediately puts up on his Instagram account, without sugarcoating his remarks or polishing them for the sake of decorum, even if he offends some internet users who criticize him for being too provocative or arrogant.

As soon as a leader makes a speech, Raidy uses his sharp tongue to mock them, each one more virulent than the last. "I speak my mind, without filters and without wearing gloves. I cannot lie and I think that the situation was fitting for such comments. We were all angry. So why should I mask my words?” he asks.

Whether one completely agrees with Raidy’s language, which sometimes veers into the cliche, it is undeniable that, over the past two weeks, he has become a source of immediate information and an unfaltering witness to this historical moment. But above all else, he is an amplifier for the anger of an entire generation of youth that now refuses to be bullied or intimidated, and who, like Raidy, are no longer afraid of anything.

(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 2nd of November)

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