BEIRUT (Reuters) – In the heart of Beirut’s manicured downtown, something is stirring in a bullet-pocked concrete shell of a building known as “the Egg”.
Two men hold a Lebanese national flag as they pose for a photo on the rooftop of the “Egg”, an abandoned cinema building in Beirut, Lebanon, October 25, 2019. In the background, the Al-Amin mosque can be seen. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
The domed brutalist structure – once a cinema – was designed in the heady days of the 60s, badly damaged in the 1975-90 civil war, then abandoned, left to teenagers seeking a secret place for a drink or a smoke.
Then two weeks ago, protesters started pouring into the streets, raging against the political elite and reclaiming unloved corners of their capital.
Demonstrators walked into the echoing chamber and started staging impromptu parties, photo shoots, lectures.
Older residents came in to have another look at a landmark they had long dismissed as an eyesore.
“When they opened it … there was a very negative response, it did not fit in with the rest of the city,” said Salim Adib, 60, who had never been inside before.
“Of course it was a time of experimental architecture, it was something very modern.”
Around him, protesters were turning the Egg into a meeting place, holding sessions to discuss where the demonstrations were going, what the people wanted to achieve.
Small groups clambered up a precarious ladder to fly flags from a roof spiked with construction poles. Others sprayed the walls with graffiti and slogans calling for revolution, women’s participation, gay rights.
“Everyone feels lost, there are people not knowing what will happen. People are fearful. So we are here to talk about what we can do … and what we can change,” said Stephany Khalil during one session on Saturday.
Three days later, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri bowed to the demonstrations and agreed to resign, bringing his coalition government down with him.
It remains to be seen what role the protesters and their makeshift meeting place will play in the new political order. But things have already started to change.
“Public spaces [are] coming back to the people,” said a protester who gave his name as Haydar, sitting on a bare concrete terrace that used to hold cinema seats.
“Before, walking in the street we would look at it and say: ‘Ok, it’s a building. We don’t know what it is.’ Now we can enter it, and see how people before us lived.”
Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Andrew Heavens