Monday, November 12, 2007

Recent history of Lebanon - Part 4

This is Part 4 of the Recent History of Lebanon. See also Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

After politicians started calling people to join the demonstrators in Tent City, the news media started covering the event: the Lebanese TV stations provided live broadcasts and other international media (CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC) were also present at Martyr Square. If the massacre on Tiananmen Square was to repeat itself, then it would be before the eyes of the world.

The Lebanese stations started broadcasting live during Sunday afternoon and kept at it until the next night: more than 30 hours live television from one location only; it could easily be a record. Was it because of the presence of all the press that the president decided not to order the army to remove the demonstrators? In any way, by Monday morning 6 AM, no one came to enforce the deadline for removal of the tents.

Parliament was scheduled to meet that afternoon, Monday February 28, 2005, to discuss among other things, the current situation regarding the demonstrators occupying downtown. This session was also broadcasted live on TV. Many stations split their screen in two: On the left side of the screen you could see the parliamentary session and on the right side one could see the reaction of the demonstrators to the various speeches by the politicians: applause for those speaking in favor of the demonstration and a huge booing for those politicians who expressed concerns. Given the closeness of the demonstration site to the House of Parliament, the politicians inside the House could hear the reactions to their speeches immediately.

At the end of a long session, Premier Omar Karami addressed parliament. The speech was rather long winding and seldom to the point, until he suddenly stated that he would resign his position…for a moment it was silent on Martyr Square, it seemed as if people couldn’t believe their ears…followed by a thunderous cheering. For the first time in (recent?) history, an Arab leader has given up his position by peaceful popular pressure: the Cedar Revolution had started.

The next period was filled with euphoria. The Lebanese started to feel that changes could be right around the corner, after all, no one had really expected Omar Karami to step down. Arab leaders are known for many things, but listening to their people is seldom one of them. In that sense, Karami did something unique in Lebanese history and something he hardly received credit for.

People gained hope that now that Karami was gone, the Syrians might follow. Also, many proposals for political change were floated, corruption should end and the state institutions should be reorganized dramatically to clean them up once and for all. The long nights in Tent City burning candles while chanting "Give peace a chance" seemed to have paid off: Paradise was right around the corner.

Still, despite the ecstasy of the demonstrators, the common people were more careful. It was remarkable, e.g., how empty the streets were during this period. There is the famous legend about the Lebanese that they still would go out even if the bombs are falling, but that proved to be quite an exaggeration. Most people preferred to stay home and anxiously watched the TV to follow the news. The average Lebanese was negative about and afraid of the future: the Syrians would never leave and the situation could explode any moment.

What was also interesting to note, was the role of the Lebanese TV stations. Normally, they excel in broadcasting brainless shows with plenty of dance and music. Now, however, they were programming in-depth political talk shows that lasted the whole evening every evening. This was not your typical 5 minute interview followed by commercials, but more like 4 hour long interviews and discussions. Obviously, the stations were in mourning right after the murder of Rafiq Hariri so the lack of stupid shows was to be expected, but still, it was impressive to see how serious the Lebanese can be.

See here for the next episode.