How can one continue to make jewelry in a country in complete chaos, shattered by the economic crisis and the Israel-Hamas conflict that threatens the country’s stability? An interview with Selim Mouzannar, a Lebanese jeweler based in Beirut.
Sandrine Merle. The last time we met was on September 30th at Le Bon Marché. You were presenting your new jewelry pieces in a cozy salon.
Selim Mouzannar. Yes, I remember you really liked the serpent chain. And we were supposed to have dinner together. Then there was the horror… all those innocent lives taken by savages. I was torn, whether to return to Beirut or not. At first, I thought about staying in Paris, safe from a new flare-up in Lebanon. I took the risk and finally joined my family. And I couldn’t leave my team. In fact, it was unimaginable to observe this from afar.
S.M. When you arrived in Beirut, what was the atmosphere like?
Selim Mouzannar. For almost one month, the city came to a total standstill. As usual, we opened the store and the workshop. All these moments of extreme violence wear me out and make me despair; they have hijacked my life. It has been non-stop since I was 13 years old: we were already in the middle of a war back then – with the city divided in two. A rocket fell in the garden blowing up our house, I took refuge under my bed for fifteen days. More recently, the port explosion once again blew up my house. My daughter was seriously injured, the store escaped with minor damage and the workshops fortunately survived. Even so, they remained closed for several weeks.
S.M. In Lebanon, everything starts up again every time, but until when?
Selim Mouzannar. It’s true, after each shock everything stops and eventually restarts. This was the case during the various civil and regional wars. This time again, the store was deserted for weeks and a month later, well, people are spending again. Look at what happened in the world, after COVID… Now, the weeks slip by normally enough although there’s always the risk of a slip-up or an explosion. It seems inhuman but it’s the reality.
S.M. How do you continue to create jewelry in such a climate, in a country where 80% of the people live below the poverty line?
Selim Mouzannar. It’s my job, it’s my daily bread. Beirut flows through my veins. It would be easy for me to continue my life quietly in Paris; I admit that it crosses my mind sometimes. I felt like slamming the door but it’s impossible: I am responsible for 36 people, who have families to feed. My therapy – the thing that saves me – is continuing to fight and transform these dark hours by providing joy and anove all, beauty.
S.M. How do you see the future?
Selim Mouzannar. Periods of war and peace follow each other in this region of the world neglected by its gods and its many prophets. Yet, there is a lot of energy and humane people full of light and wisdom – valuable people who could put an end to extremism and take the reins to govern. I don’t like the word resilience, I am always endeavoring to change things in this region of the world, but I’m just a speck of dust. Can we say that we become toughened and dehumanized? You create a shell and even though you don’t become insensitive, you deal with reality. I don’t have the right to be defeated. Believing and fighting for peace is our hope. I still have energy but I don’t know until when.