My Comrade

Protest of the oppressed (credit Nikos Deja Vu)

Every year that passes by, we remember our workers on Labor day (May 1st). This has become part of our traditions and I fear it's becoming more of an international folklore than a day of reflection of the situation of the labor, the principles of justice governing workers and employers, in a jungle of corporations.

But labor is about the essence of human beings.

Lately, and in this context, I have been listening (excessively looping actually) the song "Comrade Sob'hi El-Jeez" ("رفيقي صبحي الجيز"). The song is an artwork by the Lebanese prodigy Ziad Rahbani. It was interpreted by many singers, notably by Khalid El-Haber, the first to sing it, and — the version which I have been listening to — by the legend Fairuz.

The song is a mixture of beautiful piano music and simple lyrical content, and the voice of Fairuz spices things up to make it a masterpiece — in my opinion (you may judge for yourself by listening below). I have never known simpler lyrics that hold so much depth and thoughtfulness than this song. It goes (mainly) as follows:

Arabic text:
رفيقي صبحي الجيز تركني ع اﻷرض وراح
رفيقي صبحي الجيز حط المكنسة و راح
ما قال لي شو بقدر أعمل لملايين المساكين
رفيق يا رفيق وينك يا رفيق
حملتني إشيا كتيري حجار وغبرا وصناديق
غيرتلي إسمي الماضي عملتلي إسمي رفيق
رفيق وما عندي رفيق
وراح يبقى إسمي رفيق
عم فتش ع واحد غيرك
عم فتش ع واحد متلك
يمشي، يمشي بمشي
نمشي ومنكفي الطريق
And the rough translation to English:
My comrade Sob'hi El-Jeez, kept me on earth and left,
My comrade Sob'hi El-Jeez, put down his broom and left,
And he did not tell what I can do to the millions of poor people.
Comrade, oh comrade, where are you, oh comrade
You put upon me too many things, stones, dusts and boxes.
You changed my old name, you made my name "Comrade"
Comrade, yet I got no comrade
My name shall stay comrade
I'm looking for someone other than you
I'm looking for some just like you
To walk, he walks and I walk
Together we walk and complete the road

There are many stories behind the origin of the song. One of them is that the composer, Ziad Rahbani, actually wrote it in homage to an old man who used to clean up his neighborhood and then one day disappeared and after investigation he found out the man was dead. The name Sob'hi El-Jeez is most probably not the name of that person, but it most certainly reflects an Arabic-Beiruti identity.

As we note, in this song, Ziad Rahbani (member of the Communist Party during the Lebanese civil war period) has approached many topics, namely death (kept me on earth an left), the nobility of labor work (his broom), the equality of working men (and women) by calling this usually disregarded man his comrade, the importance of human solidarity and support (what I can do to the millions of poor people), the irrelevance of material riches (stones, dusts and boxes), the wisdom of the experience of the less fortunate (You changed my old name, you made my name "Comrade"), slightly away from the communist/socialist context, the importance of standing for similar principles in relevant organizations or independently (Comrade, yet I got no comrade/My name shall stay comrade), and the importance of spreading the awareness and continuing the struggle for a better world (Together we walk and complete the road).

This is what May 1st should stand for. It's a reminder that the majority is being oppressed by a cruel system, putting profit and money ahead of the human being, greed ahead of justice and short-term personal gains ahead of the well being of societies. The fate of the world is on a verge right now, the future is bleak, if we continue with the same pace, increasing the gap between the filthy rich and the average (and less than average) workers, consuming incessantly and seeking quick profits. This has to STOP.

The masses gathered in protest in France on May 1968 (credit NYTimes)

In this context, the majority has to react and raise its voice against being exploited and dumbed down. This culture of massive consumerism and silly entertainment is taking away the attention of the masses from the the real problem. It's a grand theft happening out there. Capitals and profits are being made in suspicious ways, taken from the pockets of the hard workers. What better time to raise the voice than on "May Day"? The world is expecting folkloric protests, why not make them historical protests which can change the course of the global economy, in the favor of the oppressed?

On these reflections, and on this glorious day, best wishes for all the laboring people around the earth globe. May we all, hand in hand, strive against oppression and dominance of corporations, to reach the rights we, as humans, deserve to live in full dignity and social justice.


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