Amidst the exhilaration of the Lebanese demonstrations and the blogospheric hooha about the liberty babes, there has been one burning unanswered question that has tormented me: where did the protesters get all those flags, and how was it done so quickly?
The Lebanese flag has to be one of the most beautiful flags ever, with its red stripes and the green cedar in the center. It was hardly ever seen before the Hariri assassination–and then, afterwards, it suddenly seemed to be everywhere, a veritable cedar forest.
Had everyone been hiding one under the mattress, waiting for the signal to come? Was there a special mobile flag factory, seeding them around the country? Or were they imported for the occasion (although most assuredly not from Syria)?
Did anyone else wonder about this, or was I all alone in my obsession? I googled it, I asked my friends; no one seemed to know or care. So I resigned myself to the mystery.
But help came from an unexpected source, the NY Times. Imagine my delight when I came across this 3/22 article (unfortunately, according to NY Times policy you have to register to see it, and then after a week it gets archived and you have to pay to get it) entitled “Banner Days for the Lebanese (Ask the Flag Makers).”
It turns out that the entreprenurial spirit is alive and well and positively thriving in Beirut. Like Santa’s elves in the weeks before Christmas, like accountants leading up to April 15, there has been no rest for the weary flag makers of Beirut:
In a cramped two-room apartment here, a group of men and women toil day and night to produce a most improbable symbol to emerge from the country’s popular demonstrations: the Lebanese flag. Seven days a week, 22 hours a day, employees of the Bourj Hammoud flag factory cut and sew, working feverishly to meet the nearly insatiable demand for flags since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14. The workers sleep in shifts, a few hours at a time. On a good day, the factory’s seven employees turn out 5,000 Lebanese flags, but it is not enough….The Bourj Hammoud factory, which had been making Valentine’s Day T-shirts, switched to flags on the 15th and has not stopped since.
And yet, questions remain. We may never know the identity of the mysterious caller who phoned Mr. Gassan, a flag distributor, the day before the demonstration and ordered 40,000 of them. That’s a lot of flags, but Gassan estimates that three-quarters of a million have been sold since Hariri’s assassination. That’s an awful lot of flags. Even at the rate of 5,000 a day, it doesn’t add up, but who’s counting? They’re beautiful, they’re everywhere, and the flagmakers are very, very happy.
Long may they wave.