With pots and pans, Lebanese family joins clangour for political change

From Carole Hajj, 8, to her grandfather Elias, 86, the whole family makes their anger known

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Every night at 8 sharp, a cacophony of pots and pans being banged rises above Beirut.

As part of the nationwide anti-government protests that began in October, the Lebanese have revived an age-old method of expressing discontent with their leaders.

Striking a fork against a saucepan lid, 8-year-old Carole Hajj makes noise on her balcony most evenings with her cousins, parents and grandparents.

“This is to show that I am with the revolution,” she said, a Lebanese flag draped around her shoulders.

Elias Hajj, 86, encourages his granddaughter’s revolutionary spirit. “Banging pots and pans is a way to express our contempt and anger towards those who rule us,” he said.

“The situation is very bad. There is no work and no money. Politicians are all thieves,” he added, echoing oft-repeated complaints about Lebanon’s worst economic crisis since the end of the civil war in 1990 that triggered nation-wide protests.

In the building opposite the Hajj’s flat, figures in the dark could be seen walking out on to their balconies, also banging pots and pans.

“It’s nice to see that you’re not alone,” said Nayla Hajj, one of Carole’s aunts. “You can hear it very loudly, so you know that you are in this with so many other people.”

BEIRUT, LEBANON: Clara, Joanne and Carole Hajj wait for 8pm on their grandparents' balcony in Sassine, Beirut.

Since a wave of protest and popular uprising began in Lebanon in late October, one of the methods of protest has been residents banging pots and pans on their balconies every night at 8pm.

Credit: Jacob Russell for The National
From left, Clara, Joanne and Carole Hajj wait for 8pm to start banging pots and pans on the balcony of their grandparents' home in Beirut. Jacob Russell for The National

Calls to bang pots and pans started on social media in the southern city of Saida on November 4 and then spread to big cities like Beirut, according to Daleel Thawra, a directory of all initiatives linked to Lebanon’s protests.

"The initiative was started for those who wanted to take part in the protests and marches but were unable to leave their homes; so the kids, the elderly, the physically impaired could take part," one of Daleel Thawra's volunteers told The National in an email.

There are differing accounts of the origins of this form of protest. Local media have attributed it to anti-government protests in Latin America, where it is known as “cacerolazo”. Others, like Carole’s father, Marc Hajj, feel that they are continuing a Lebanese tradition that goes back at least a century.

“It shows that pans are empty and that people are hungry,” said Mr Hajj, who worries about increasing poverty in Lebanon.

“Most people only got paid half their salary this month. In the long term, this is worrying. There will be no more money.” Like many Lebanese, Mr Hajj, a music teacher, has to meet monthly payments on bank loans.

The United Nations Development Programme estimates that 27 per cent of Lebanese are poor, meaning that they live on less than $270 (Dh990) per month. According to the World Bank, this figure could reach 50 per cent if economic conditions worsen.

Hopes for a solution will rest on the new government that politicians have been struggling to form since Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29, bowing to protester demands for new leadership.

The protests continue and remain largely peaceful, although the numbers of people taking part have dropped. The initial excitement has turned into worry as banks restrict access to cash, inflation rises, and people lose their jobs.

But for the young generation, the urge to protest remains strong.

Local universities are among the best in the region, but once they have graduated, many young Lebanese must emigrate to find a job.

Standing with her saucepan and spoon in hand, 13-year old Clara Hajj said that she would carry on protesting to “build a good future in this country. I do not want to emigrate.”

Clara’s words made her, mother, Mirna, tear up.

Her grandfather, Elias, agreed with her. “I feel happy when I see my family protest. I hope they don’t travel to Europe or America. It’s for our children that we are doing this revolution.”