All Means All’s message to Lebanese leaders: Get lost
There is an abstract, intangible dimension to a revolutionary slogan like “All Means All” in Lebanon. It is deliberately irrational and expresses a denunciation, by a new generation, of everybody and everything. It goes beyond the need for an explanation, and purposefully embodies many contradictions, almost defying rationality.
“All Means All” — “Killon ya3ni Killon,” or KYK for short — is a nihilistic rejection of anything that could have contributed to where we are. Think of the Paris revolts of August 1968 and its slogans like “Y’en a Marre” (I am fed up), “Elections pieges a cons” (Elections, traps for idiots), “Soyez realistes, demandez l’impossible” (be realistic, demand the impossible). KYK epitomizes the lot and much more.
KYK is a three-letter word that says to the establishment, get lost, we’re not playing your games, we don’t accept your rules and we don’t recognize your divisions. They are against the sectarian system, against the wheeling and dealing of political parties, symbols of corruption and nepotism. They are against the split between the March 14 and March 8 political camps. There is something millennial and non-binary that deliberately defies any logic attached to the system.
This is a post-civil war generation that remembers the 2005 cedar revolution being hijacked by corrupt and compromising politicians, and experienced the failure of previous revolts. In 2015, the You Stink movement went nowhere and was later decimated by political divisions when it got real. It was a revolt against politicians who had failed to provide basic of services such as electricity and garbage collection.
In 2015, the golden child of civil society was a group called Beirut Madinati (Beirut my city), composed of nonpolitical academics and technocrats. They had significant support when they fought the municipal elections against the candidates of established political parties. But later a seemingly unified civil society disintegrated when they were confronted with political questions and gained only one single seat in the 2018 parliamentary elections. Politicians could not be beaten at their own game, so KYK said we’re not playing that game this time, and beating the establishment (all of it) became the only game.
KYK symbolizes unity against an abstract enemy that comes under different names. It is sometimes called the political class (all of it), or the establishment (Al-Manthoumeh), or the Oligarchy by the more pretentious. Gradually it was getting focused on a definition of what constitutes “the authority” (the Sulta) and this became code for Hezbollah and its allies. But the H word remains the most divisive and many abstain from using it directly and stick to KYK in order not to fall into the political trap again and splinter the movement.
The origin of KYK is in the 2015 You Stink protests. There was a poster then with a caricature image of all the main politicians: Hariri, Berri, Jaajaa, Aoun, Jumblatt, Gemayel, and also including Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah among them. After a visit from Hezbollah’s blackshirts, they were “persuaded” to remove Nasrallah’s image. It was after that incident that the slogan “All means All” started appearing — it was code for Nasrallah himself.
The 2015 You Stink protests were mainly confined to activists in Beirut, and in the 2018 elections the only civil society candidate that won was also from Beirut. But the Oct. 17, 2019 revolts were nationwide and included cities and towns from the far north to the south. Tripoli, Saida, Nabatiyeh all joined in and the principal unifying slogan was KYK.
KYK is a unifying slogan, but it is also ambiguous, confused and inconsistent when it comes to direct political confrontation. It has an esoteric, almost mystical, dimension in its attempt to purify itself from the dirty business of politics.
The underlying assumption was that revolts were localized and every local group was protesting against its own leaders to avoid any sectarian tensions. Hence KYK became the unifying slogan of a national movement for the first time and that the description of that movement was upgraded from a revolt to a revolution. KYK symbolizes the Lebanese revolution or the thawra.
There are similarities with Iraq, the protests there use the same vocabulary and use code when they refer to Iranian sponsored militias or the equivalent to Hezbollah in Lebanon. In 2019, protesters in Basra and Najaf sent messages to those in Mosul asking them not to criticize the Shiite militias in order to avoid giving them the opportunity to turn it into a sectarian confrontation and rallying support. The protests are similarly against a sectarian establishment riddled with corruption and nepotism and which is unable to provide basic services and employment. But increasingly the revolts are focused against “the militias” which is also code for Iranian influence.
There are deeply rooted cultural features of Lebanese society also encapsulated in KYK. One of them is that politics is historically considered as an exclusive club of political families rarely penetrated by outsiders. After the civil war, Militia leaders and returned billionaire businessmen joined that club but maintained its impenetrability.
Another historical feature is the culture of compromise and of turning the page. The slogan that ended the civil war in 1860 was “mada ma mada” or “what is past is past,” and there was a refusal to cooperate with an intervention by European countries to introduce accountability through a tribunal. A similar spirit was encapsulated in the slogan “no winner and no loser” after the mini-civil war of 1958 and in the Amnesty Law of 1991 that was passed by parliament after the Taif agreement that also turned the page over the civil war.
In 2005, protesters in Beirut demanded “the Truth” and the establishment of an international investigation and tribunal over the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. When the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued its judgment in August 2020 clearly demonstrating Hezbollah links to the assassination, the verdict was ignored, just as it was in 1860.
KYK is a unifying slogan, but it is also ambiguous, confused and inconsistent when it comes to direct political confrontation. It has an esoteric, almost mystical, dimension in its attempt to purify itself from the dirty business of politics. The real test it will face will be in the elections of 2022, if they are allowed to happen.
• Nadim Shehadi is executive director of the LAU Headquarters and Academic Center in New York and an associate fellow of Chatham House in London.