Photographs from Beirut's abandoned cinema during the first week of the October 17 protests.
On the second night of the October 17 protests, hundreds of protesters were violently tear gassed outside the Grand Serail. We got stuck in a stampede as it rained fire, and by the time we got out, we were scattered across Downtown. Somehow, my friend group managed to regroup at the Egg and climb into the dark and quiet cocoon. We sat on the ledge of the balcony, breathless and tearful, watching our city burn below us. It felt as though we’d been waiting for this for a long time.
The Egg is a curious landmark. Designed by architect Joseph Philippe Karam, it is an unfinished cinema structure that was built in 1965 but never completed because of the Lebanese Civil War. For decades to come, it remained a contested site, with activists and architects rallying for its preservation. The building remained untouched, but was barred away from the Lebanese people. Since then, it has stood in the middle of the pristine and polished Downtown Beirut, full of debris, bullet holes, and reminders.
After October 17, The Egg transformed. It became a meeting point, a lecture hall, a movie theatre, an art gallery, a discussion circle, a place to rest, a place to observe. Academics and activists began organizing talks in The Egg, and there was a thrill that rippled through us as we finally had a space and chance to converse. People asked questions and shared their anxieties: What’s next? How do we keep this going? How do we make sure it doesn’t fail? What is in our power to change?
For a while, the rickety ladder of The Egg became a playground for venturous teenagers and young adults, who took the scary trip up for the view. The metal ladder, suspended in space with no foundations, was held only by a couple of cement blocks. In order to climb up, somebody had to hold down the cement blocks, the ladder shaking throughout. It felt like an extreme trust exercise between strangers bonded by the chants and songs below. While photographing this girl climbing up to the roof, the boy holding the ladder called from the top:
"ما تطلّعي لتحت! ما تسمعي لحدا! ركزي بس وين عم تدعسي! ما تخافي!"
“Don’t look down! Don’t listen to anyone! Focus only on where you’re stepping! Don’t be afraid!”
During long days, we went to The Egg to recharge. Tired protesters would exchange cigarettes, water, and stories. It was a filthy abandoned place, and yet it was cleaned and re-graffitied almost overnight, although the smell of urine was still unmistakeable. There was an odd feeling in the air of The Egg during that first week, something unfamiliar to the post-war generation of Beirut, that feeling of being a part of our own history, of creating and sharing a new collective memory.
The wall reads:
هذه مدينتي، وهؤلاء ناسي، وهذه ثورتنا
This is my city, and these are my people, and this is our revolution