‘The day we put on our masks’

Some student at AUB organized a direct action to counter the visit of the richest man in world to their campus. Yasmin, a feminist activist and an active students who participated in the action wrote to Sawtalniswa, explaining what exactly happened.

Carlos slim visited the American University of Beirut last week. He is the richest man in the world. He came to lecture us, students and professors and followers, about  money. Apparently the Business School at AUB decided to draw a clear model of what it is teaching its students_ to become rich or die trying.

Slim is notorious for owning telecommunication companies, and banks forming an oligarchic monopoly. His efforts to incentivize and empower private investments and the private sector were very efficient in weakening the poor in Mexico and the world.

‘The minimum wage in Mexico has fallen in real purchasing power by 75% in the last thirty years. During the presidency of Vicente Fox alone from 2000-2006, it fell by 22%. Ten million workers, 24% of the economically active population, make the minimum wage or less. Fifty million Mexicans live below the poverty line. Of these, 30 million live on 30 pesos per day ($3 US), 10 million live on 22 pesos daily, another 10 million on less than 10 pesos daily.’

‘In the same period, Mexico rose to the 4th top position in the world in the number of millionaires. And it boasts the third richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, who did very well indeed through privatizations. The top 20% in Mexico control 52.7% of Mexico’s wealth while 30% of Mexicans subsist on less than one minimum salary per family per day. ‘

What we decided to do, a bunch of students in solidarity with the dispossessed of the earth is to speak out our indignation towards his visit. We wanted to tell our university that it should have a moral responsibility when inviting guest lecturers, that we don’t agree on feeding business students (and other faculties) the non-sense they are being taught, that we want the students to be critical about what is said on campus/in classes, and mostly, to show our solidarity with the Zapatistas and the workers of Mexico.

So we prepared our Spanish dictionaries, wrote banners and went to the lecture.

We put on our Zapatistas masks, turned towards the public and held our banners. In a split of a second, all eyes turned towards us and the journalists – previously taking pictures of the money Mogul – turned their lenses towards us. And there stood, the colossal old man, the hundreds of followers in the hall, the university’s pride at hosting him, the billions of dollars,  We stood to represent the wretched of the earth, those that the companies of Slim and the like disinherit and disperse.We stood there with our fists to show him that they were not alone.

‘Enough, stop capitalist terrorism, and the poor on earth are the same’. We held out our words, our silence, our bodies and our eyes, to fight the arrogance of a rich man.

In no time, the security men (who already work hard to prevent non-AUB from enjoying the rest of green in the city) and body guards  ran towards us, eyes bloody with fear and shame. ‘take these masks off, who are you, why are you doing this?’

But we held to our masks, we held to our silence, and we held to each others, facing the people now, outside the glass windows, after they closed the blinds, so the richest man in the world won’t be offended by our eyes. We wore the masks of his compatriots, the Zapatistas, those his actions have directly affected and disempowered and marginalized. They all wanted us out, out of the campus, out of their sight, out of the record of his immaculate visit to our university

And this is exactly what we wanted to say. Our silence was crying out our rejection, the natural refusal of our minds, our bodies and our consciences to receAdd an Imageive the carrier of such ideas and actions in our campus. The university is ours, the city is ours. Us, those who nobody asks for opinion, those who work, study and pay, those who put their silence ahead of them to speak of the atrocities and injustices. It is ours because we are the people, we are the ones who live it and change it. We have the right to change it. ‘Let us have a civilized discussion’ she said

‘Why are you doing this, we are educated people’.

Professors and teachers ran to ‘talk us’ out of this, only our eyes spoke to them.  ‘you will be expelled’, she yelled at us. We smiled. Do you think we are afraid of ‘that’?

Women in makeup and heels, all happy to welcome the money guru ran towards us. ‘You are freaking people out, why are you wearing this, aren’t you ashamed of what you are doing? ‘3ayb’’.

Words were thrown on us, shouts, security men wanting to hold us, hands, eyes, faces shocked.  They all had the very same ‘3ayb’ , shame to hide. How is it possible that we did that to our guest, 3ayb. How is it possible that we are wearing masks like terrorists, 3ayb. And mostly, how is it possible we don’t realize that we are losing the university’s opportunity -of gaining money (?) or at least being mentioned as one of the institutions which received the great man- (of what) and disgracing it, transfiguring it s image as the capitalist colonialist orientalist haven for the wretched of the world, 3ayb.why don’t you expan your idea here by saying how does the teacher’s attitude conflict with the “freedom of knowledge”, “freedom of speech” and “ student’s right to participate in the university’s life.”

Im still wondering, what do the professors who shouted at us think of ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘students’ rights to participate in university life’ concepts? or does this only include activities like the outdoors and cake sale for university students?

We stood outside for an hour, fighting the security men with silence and the questioning students with facts about the guy they were lead by hand by their professors to watch.

These students were also our aim. Around 500 students, eyes open, smiles naively waving at him ‘the richest man in the world’, ‘the one we are majoring in Business in the hope of becoming like him one day’. Every year, Like blank pages these kids are fed the newest, most aggressive and –dare I say- blind concepts of the market. ‘Money, money, money and more money. That is your aim’, they are told.

And how about everything else?

‘So it is happening in Mexico, why should it be our concern?’ ..and this is what they are teaching you in this university. The total lack of care and sensitivity to anyone who is slightly different than ‘them’. And this ‘them’ is meticulously defined and limited to a small geographical, ethnic, religious/sectarian, gender, and political self.

We stood there answering their questions, their ‘whys’ and ‘hows’. ‘why are you doing this? Is he corrupt? Why are you here?’.

‘Why are YOU here?’ we asked, did you read about the guy, did you see what are the effects of his policies and companies and forums.

We were speaking to the university to the students and to the professors. We were not speaking to him, but our silence reached him


Sawt al' Niswa



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