Lebanon

No barbed wire, no roadblock will stop Sanaa el-Sheikh

L’Orient Le Jour found this Lebanese Lara Croft from Tripoli, whose photos struggling alone with the police while hanging on a barrier more than two meters high, have been circulating widely since Saturday.

Sanaa el-Sheikh perched above the police. Photo Nabil Ismaïl

Saturday, January 18, in the afternoon, as tension escalated near the Parliament, in downtown Beirut, a political scientist on a talk show argued that "given the new turn of the situation, we will see fewer and fewer women on the street.” At the same time, on television, on social networks, as well as on various WhatsApp groups, there was talk of infiltrators, a fifth column, thugs or people sent by some political parties to serve who knows what hidden agenda.

In the midst of this flood of opinions and speculation, all the cameras, all the eyes were fixed on an enigmatic young woman who stood out from a mass of demonstrators who were retreating from the security forces. She rushed alone towards the police forces on Rue Weygand, vaulted the barbed wire in a move straight out of Japanese manga, to end up perching on top of the barrier, eyes locked with those of the security forces ... It only took a few moments for the scene, immortalized by thirty photographers clustered around this stranger who seemed utterly fearless, to spread like wildfire on social networks. Later, Orient-Le Jour found Sanaa el-Sheikh.


No more waxing

It is no coincidence that this 29-year-old woman from Tripoli studied law. It is no coincidence, either, that she has chosen a career as a referee and coach of a number of football teams that are taking part in Asian cups. As far back as she can remember, Sanaa el-Sheikh was fighting, at school, for the rights of her comrades, frantically making fun of finding herself in the crosshairs and standing in opposition to the school administration. For her, it is non-negotiable, "justice and thoroughness are two essential things". This concept has grown, and still lives on, in Tripoli, the epicenter of Lebanese poverty, "around friends, relatives, neighbors, who no longer had enough to buy bread or find themselves [medical] treatment. While only a few steps away, the wealthiest families in Lebanon are building palaces, ignoring our existence and deigning to approach us only before the elections, just to secure our voices”, she said with rage in her voice. Last October, as the revolution started, Sanaa el-Sheikh, like many inhabitants of Tripoli, began to "wake up from this deep sleep and suddenly understand the whole political game in which we will no longer fall.” In the first weeks of the movement, she clarifies that, every day, she participated "against hunger", in al-Nour square, standing against "those for whom we are nothing except voters during elections, and this in spite of those who told me to be careful because my position could offend some people”. But at that time, she said, she has "nothing more to wax [on about]". As soon as transportation became available, she went to the capital's squares to provide peaceful support to the revolutionaries in Beirut. The Week of Anger, which started last Tuesday, found a particular echo in this fighter who said: "We were very patient in the face of a political class which turned a deaf ear during the first 90 days of the revolution , and that only cares about sharing this political cake when people are starving.”


Make your voice heard

Her anger that had lain dormant finally exploded on Saturday, January 18, when the police used excessive force in order to push the demonstrators back. Sanaa el-Sheikh’s blood boiled and she turn and rushed to the security forces’ barricade guarding one of the entrances to Parliament. Nearby men tried to catch her as she ran past, but she was oblivious, seeing neither her would be saviors, or the gestures of the threatening forces in front. Like some sort of cyborg, she jumped over the barbed wire strewn on the ground. She thought of her mother who had passed away. She thought of her brother, who also died, due to lack of care. She thought of her father, and her other brother whom she cares for. She thought of her comrades in Tripoli, their grief that no one seems to accept, and she thought to herself: "The pain, I have known it ... This is not a roadblock that will scare me.” Then she climbed beautifully, and found herself hanging on the barrier. Her hands, clinging to the edge, were "hammered with sticks by four members of the forces". Her fingers injured, she withdrew for treatment, but ended up coming back, with even stronger resolve, and ended up again "facing the police". After taking tear gas to the eyes, Sanaa el-Sheikh washed her face, brought onions, and came back to the front line for the third time, fearlessly, ignoring her injuries. It was at this moment that she received a jet of water to the face, as well as yet more tear gas which forced her to seek medical treatment, again, along with her rescuers. "You didn't have to look for me, each blow increased my anger", she recounts, and as a result of going up the head of the clashes, she ended up being hit in the back by a rubber bullet. It took long minutes for a protester to see her, sprawled as she was on the asphalt in a large cloud of tear gas, not far from the Hotel Le Gray. She was immediately taken to hospital.

"Once treated, I wanted to return to the area, but it had calmed down. I absolutely wanted my voice to carry. What you have to understand is that we are a people who need so little. Electricity, water, enough to pay medical bills, enough to eat. Dignity, in fact, what more do we ask for?" she says. Sanaa el-Sheikh, Sunday, January 19, again on the front line despite suffering from the endless violence she suffered the day before, but which, she says, "will not prevent me from returning to the street today, and every day". She has nothing more to fear, because she has nothing more to lose, "except my country that we must save".


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 21rst of January)



Saturday, January 18, in the afternoon, as tension escalated near the Parliament, in downtown Beirut, a political scientist on a talk show argued that "given the new turn of the situation, we will see fewer and fewer women on the street.” At the same time, on television, on social networks, as well as on various WhatsApp groups, there was talk of infiltrators, a fifth column, thugs or people...

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