Thursday, November 8, 2007

Recent history of Lebanon - Part 3

The murder of Rafiq Hariri triggered an enormous response. Ever since the extension of president Lahoud’s term and the murder attempt on Marwan Hamadeh, the situation was tense. The UN Resolution 1559, which, among others, required all militias to give up their arms, also increased the anxiety in Lebanon. This resolution was targeted towards the various small Palestinian factions possessing arms as well as to the arms of Hezbollah, or at least the latter was heavily debated.

Before, nobody in Lebanon even dared to criticize Hezbollah let alone ask them to give up their guns and with good reason: it was the Resistance that kicked out almighty Israel and thus had gained a lot of respect among all Lebanese. Who would dare to question the Resistance after everything they had done to protect Lebanon?

The answer to that question would be: an increasing amount of Lebanese who felt threatened by the same arms that only a few years ago protected them against Israeli assaults. The full support Hezbollah gave to the extension of Lahoud and to the presence of Syrian troops, only led to more Lebanese questioning Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon. It felt that the wind was a-changing and everybody but Hezbollah noticing it.

Regardless, in a spontaneous reaction to the murder of Hariri, anti-Syria protesters started a sit-in on Martyr Square in the center of Beirut and very close to the Parliamentary Building. The demonstrators were a mix of pretty much all religions and political currents, all joined together by Hariri’s tragedy. Differences were put aside and they merged to a single theme: a demand to know the truth.

Every day people came to downtown to join the sit-in, which in a day has become a full blown tent city. It was remarkable to see the fraternity that occurred: Christians, Druze and Sunnis were openly discussing with each other, which was already a feat in Lebanon. What’s more, erstwhile enemies even agreed with one another. Never before did Hariri have such an effect on Lebanon. Tent City became a place to discuss, listen to speeches, and enjoy live music.

Side note: an amusing detail was the installation of a night guard to ensure men and women were sleeping separately from each other. Also, alcohol was strictly forbidden. This was in response to accusations from pro-Syria parties that Tent City was a place full of sins and parents should not allow their kids to be in such a vicious location.

Things got tense after a week or two when president Lahoud ordered the tents to be removed. His order came in on Sunday afternoon Feb 27, 2005 and requested the demonstrators to leave Martyr Square before Monday morning 6 AM. He wanted to clear the area prior to a Parliamentary session scheduled for later that Monday. Lahoud added that he would not hesitate to deploy the army to make certain that Tent City would no longer be in place.

In response to Lahoud’s call for removal, anti-Syria politicians came on TV calling on all Lebanese to come to the downtown area in Beirut with the purpose of getting so many people down there that no one, not even the army, could remove them anymore. The inspiration for the courage to dare the President and the army was the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia, only a little while ago. There, those people have shown that peaceful demonstration can be successful in getting rid of a government and the Lebanese hoped to repeat this in their own country.

The call of the politicians to join the demonstrators in Tent City had a huge effect. The whole evening, people flowed from everywhere in Lebanon to Beirut and were welcomed with much cheers and enthusiasm. The event was broadcasted live on TV by the major stations. There was live music, water and food was distributed for free and it seemed nothing could go wrong.

Yet, not everybody was so optimistic. The more careful spectators feared a repeat of quite another revolution: the Student Revolution on the Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 that was ruthlessly crushed by the armed forces. Lahoud’s warning to use force when necessary was difficult to believe, but one never knows. History wouldn’t repeat itself, would it?

See here for the next episode.


Riemer Brouwer said...

Previous comment of cedars1559 removed since it had no relation with the blog article