Meet Lebanon’s 'flag queen'

27-year old Feyrouz Abou Hassan is easy to spot in the crowds of Beirut's three-week uprising

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Feyrouz Abou Hassan became a symbol of Lebanon’s protests after carrying the same oversized Lebanese flag every day since protests started on October 17.

Despite her slender figure, 27-year old Feyrouz Abou Hassan is easy to spot in the crowd.

Every single day since anti-government protests erupted in Lebanon on October 17, the young actress has taken to the streets of Beirut, raising the same giant Lebanese flag high above her head.

Dubbed the “flag lady”, she has become a fixture of protests. Sown up multiple 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 her and other protesters, the giant flag symbolises the unity that they aspire to in a country where religious and political ties often take precedence over nationalistic 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 29-year old Guy Younes, a civil engineer who has been active in protests, standing next to 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 wanted a bigger one,” laughed Ms Abou Hassan, who purchased her flag in downtown Beirut for $26 (Dh 95).

Lebanon has been rocked by several massive protests since the end of the civil war in 1990, but the latest ones are unprecedented.

For the first time, the Lebanese have taken to the street with only one symbol in their hand: their country’s 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 massive rejection of the ruling elite which 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 41-year old Melissa Fathallah, a catering manager, watching Ms Abou Hassan wave her flag in a sit-in in front of the Justice Palace.

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

In the Northern city of Tripoli, which has become a hotspot for protests, 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 country.

As power-sharing in Lebanon is divided by 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. 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,” said Ms Fathallah.

Ms Abou Hassan’s flag gained some notoriety late October when she fiercely defended it as the police tried to break a sit-in she took part in on a Beirut highway.

“I pushed the police away with it by placing it in front of their face,” she said. “That was the first day when 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.

“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 Lebanon’s symbol, the green cedar tree, and the width of the red strips are both wrong, pointed out Ms Abou Hassan.

She shrugged and laughed about it.

“It’s a fake flag but it’s a true flag too, you know”.