A Giant Protest. A Nervous Toddler. Time for 'Baby Shark.'

Elian Peltier
A scene from the viral "Baby Shark" video. (YouTube)

When Eliane Jabbour found herself in the middle of a crowd of protesters in Lebanon on Saturday night, she was understandably concerned that the noise and commotion would be frightening for her toddler son, who had just woken from a nap in the passenger seat of her car.

But it didn’t quite pan out the way she had expected.

Robin, her 15-month-old son, was confronted by an astonishing sight: Protesters encircled the car with big grins to serenade him with the earworm song “Baby Shark” — complete with its playful dance.

A video of the episode in Beirut — with Robin staring wide-eyed at the all-singing, all-dancing group and then glancing at his mother as he clutched his bottle — quickly spread online and has become something of a symbol for the anti-government demonstrations that have gripped Lebanon for days.

During those protests, thousands have gathered on the streets of Beirut and around the country, demanding an end to chronic corruption and denouncing the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Jabbour had been driving home on the crowded streets when she came across a group of protesters. She asked them not to scare her son.

“I told them, ‘I have my baby with me, just don’t be too loud,’” Jabbour said when she described the scene by phone on Tuesday.

One of the protesters began to lead a handful of his fellow activists — mostly young men, some wrapped in their country’s flag — into a rendition of the toddler anthem and the snapping hand motions mimicking a shark’s bite.

The infectious song was produced by a company based in Seoul, South Korea, in 2015. It has been viewed more than 3.7 billion times on YouTube and adapted into more than 100 versions in 11 languages.

A scene from the viral "Baby Shark" video. (Screenshot: YouTube)

One of the men seen dancing in front of the car, Elie-Joe Nehme, a 22-year-old business student, said on Tuesday that the crowd had just wanted Robin to have fun.

“He didn’t laugh, he was shocked, but at least he didn’t cry,” he said in a phone interview.

The protests across Lebanon were prompted by the announcement of a tax on popular, free messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger that are widely used in the country. But the grievances go much deeper: Trash has piled up on city streets for years because of poor governance, the economy is in shambles, and there are critical shortages of wheat and gas.

Nonetheless, the protests have remained largely peaceful. Many parents have joined the demonstrations with their children in tow. At the main protest in Beirut this weekend, vendors sold ice cream, roasted corn and hookah pipes amid a festive, almost carnivalesque atmosphere.

“We can protest, we can do a revolution, all the while remaining happy,” Nehme said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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