(To mark the protests in Beirut, I am providing a recipe over-ripe with sweetness to counter the sour smell on the streets from all the uncollected rubbish. But first here is a little essay on the protests that my husband was asked to write…)
Summer in Beirut is more often than not a victory of hope over experience.
Hotels and restaurants gear up for what they pray will be a substantial temporary homecoming from Lebanon’s sentimental diaspora.
And tens of thousands do usually come if there is no actual war in progress.
No sooner do they touch down than they feel the familiar frisson of life on a knife edge — a sudden drug like rush of intensity.
A month or so later, they leave, having concluded once again that for all Lebanon’s many attractions and excitements, it’s just too impossible to live there.
The banality of a reasonably functioning state with some accountability in government and bureaucracy can come to seem pretty enticing after a full blast of Lebanon’s never-ending experiment in national irresponsibility.
This summer, a ferocious heat that’s bitten deep across the Middle East has brought all these habitual frustrations to boiling point.
Beirutis have come out in their thousands to demand that their political elite — many aging warlords from the civil war — do the one thing they’ve never shown any real interest in — and govern.
Surrounded by conflict and riven by religious and sectarian divisions, the one thing that has united all those Lebanese in protest is… rubbish.
The metaphor is almost too good to be true.
The rottenness of the political system has finally taken physical shape on the streets of Beirut in mounds of trash.
Not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, the protesters call their campaign, You Stink.
It’s the kind of playful yet deeply serious sloganeering, fuelled by the young and politically unencumbered, that raised such expectation in the heady days of the Arab Spring.
Now that phrase can hardly be mentioned without prefacing it with the words, “aborted” or “failed”.
In much of the Arab world, it’s dismissed as just another Western conspiracy.
But its roots go deeper than that.
Its young protagonists may have dispersed or become disheartened, but they haven’t gone anyway.
When a young Yemeni woman makes a national flag out of shards of bomb-shattered glass in the middle of Sanaa or a Saudi Youtuber turns Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry into a helium-light attack on his country’s ban on women driving — its spirit is sustained.
In Beirut, the government tried to build a wall in downtown to protect itself from the protesters.
Within a day it was gone, as Beirutis used it as a sketchpad to express their defiance and contempt.
In Lebanon and other Arab countries, activists have been learning to focus on single issues — such as stopping the destruction of precious public space — in a bid to build the foundations of a civil society from the bottom up.
The process is rarely as dramatic now as the protests Beirut has been seeing.
And in that drama, there may be the seeds of a new failure as the security forces respond with water cannon and teargas — and opportunistic political factions infiltrate the demonstrations to try to stir new trouble.
But as the famous chant of the Arab Spring is heard in Beirut — “ash-shab yurid isqat an-nizam” –hope has poked its head up yet again.
Lebanon didn’t have an Arab Spring, it hasn’t really had a government for years — which may have actually helped it negotiate the tightrope of all the tensions from the Syrian conflict.
But in the midst of an exceptional heatwave, it may be now having a mini Arab Summer of its own — which could still turn out to be more than just a passing summer storm.
Whatever happens, I think it’s fair to say that those who are out on streets have shown courage.
To celebrate them, I was wondering what recipe to present here. For some reason, I thought of Awwamat — or Lebanese honey balls. A mixture I guess of sweetness and bravery… And useful also to counteract the stench of the streets –
For the Syrup, warm but not hot
200g of sugar
1 glass of water
1 tea spoon of lemon juice
1 tea spoon of rose water
1 tea spoon of orange blossom
3 glasses of vegetable oil
In a large bowl put the flour, the cornflour, the yeast, salt and sugar
Mix well, then add the yogurt and warm water
Stir well until the dough is smooth and slightly runny
Cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a warm place to ferment for 1 hour
Meanwhile, prepare the syrup
In a small pan add all the ingredients and stir well
Once it starts to boil, reduce temperature and leave for 30-35 minutes or until the syrup is slightly thicker
Leave aside to cool down
Once the dough is ready, put the oil in a very deep but small pan and heat until the oil is slightly hot
Remove from the flames if it starts to boil
Place the batter in a piping bag with a normal nozzle and squeeze it out into the hot oil in the shape of small balls
Once the little balls start to pop to the surface, put the pan back on the flame
Once they puff up and start to change colour, remove from pan
Do the same to the rest of the dough
Once the Awwamat cool down, return them to the frying pan — this time in hot oil
Fry until golden brown
Now put them in the syrup
Remove and serve cold