The People Make
A Stand Over
The Lies Of Lebanon
15 March 2005
before have we seen anything like it in Lebanon. Never before have we
seen anything like it in the Arab world.
Almost a third of
the population of Lebanon was there; they walked many miles through
the city to Martyrs Square, they arrived by bus from the far north
and from Sidon in the south, most of them young, many of them children.
This was not just
a game of power. Nor was it, per se, a democratic revolution. It was
an insurrection by the people against the lies and corruption of government
as well as the foreign control they have lived under for so many decades.
Yes, they wanted
the Syrian army out - they are leaving anyway - but they also wanted
President Lahoud of Lebanon to resign. They wanted no more compliant
Lebanese governments led by weak old men; and most of them - to tell
from the lapel badges they wore - were demanding the truth about the
murder of the former premier Rafik Hariri on 14 February.
There was an ocean
of Lebanese banners. And never before had those flags, used with such
cynicism and so much derision in the past, appeared so magnificent.
It wasnt just the green cedar tree in the centre - always so refreshing
after the black stars and governessy eagles that grace the flags of
so many Arab regimes - but the fact that it was raised in protest at
dishonesty and murder. It was the young of Lebanon, so often courted
by the elderly and guilty men of this country, who were using their
flag to get rid of them.
Up in the palace
at Baabda, President Lahoud and his entourage seem as isolated from
their countrys mood as the Americans and their appointees in the
Baghdad "green zone" do from Iraqs tragedy. Indeed,
from the Baabda "green zone", there had emerged one of those
spectacularly inappropriate statements that only exiled presidents usually
make. "Any small firecracker could lead to a catastrophe,"
President Lahoud said.
But what did this
mean? Was it a threat? A warning? Did he know something the Leban-ese
did not? Or was he merely showing his concern for the million who want
him to step down - or, in the words of Lebanons now-returned opposition
leader Walid Jumblatt, to leave with the Syrians.
But no, it turned
out he feared that Hariris murderers might throw a hand-grenade
into the crowd. "What will become of our children?" he asked.
But it was for their
children that so many hundreds of thousands of Lebanese protested yesterday.
And one could not fail to notice so many hopeful aspects of their demonstration.
They were happy and smiling and laughing; some even brought picnics
or marched to trumpets and drums.
Many were the children
whose parents had sent them abroad to be educated in Geneva, London
or New York in the dark years of the civil war, returned now and anxious
to rid themselves of the sectarian past. The Lebanese troops who stood
around the square pointedly wore their rifles reversed over their shoulders,
barrels pointed to the ground. They were not going to harm their countrymen.
Of course, there
were some wearying signs: Christians tended to keep to the east of Martyrs
Square and Muslims to the west - their ethnic locations when the square
was the civil war front line
There was a large
and cruel cartoon of the Shia Hizbollah leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah,
one of his arms tugged by Lebanon, the other by Syria, with the words
"Make up your mind!" written above. And yet that is the question
all Lebanon is asking. For if Nasrallah remains loyal to Syria, he will
cut off much of the Shia community from their fellow citizens.
There was a clutch
of secondary speakers at the rally: Nayla Mouawad, widow of the assassinated
president Rene Mouawad, and old Mikhail Dagher and the smart opposition
MP Ghenura Jaloul who vainly tried to present Mr Lahoud with opposition
demands last week. But Mr Jumblatt stayed away in his Moukhtara castle,
unwilling to risk assassination on the road to Beirut. Hariris
two sons had already fled the country.
Now all await the
United Nations detailed report on Hariris killing. Who did
it? That was the question they were asking yesterday in their tens of
thousands. And still Mr Lahoud remains silent.
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