A Lebanese wrote to a friend about the historic events in Beirut, including the Hizbullah demonstration. The author has graciously allowed MidEastWeb to post this correspondence anonymously. From closeup, not everything look like it does in newspaper reports.
The other side... I went to the Hezbollah demo today, against the advice
of friends and relatives who were fearful that something dangerous might
happen. As I had expected, all went peacefully.
Here are some notes:
The numbers: everyone noticed that the size of the demo was larger than
the opposition's largest demo. What does this mean? According to my
observations, it means that Hezbollah is better at organizing demos; it
also means that anytime you provide free transport, paid for by the party,
to thousands of people from villages all over the country for a trip to
Beirut, they will take it. I don't mean to lessen its value, but it was
obvious that many of the people that came today would not have come had
they had to organize things themselves, unlike most people at opposition
For example, the funniest moment today happened shortly before Nasrallah's
speech (secretary general of Hezbollah). We were all packed like sardines,
and having been to rock concerts in the US, I began to worry that some
among us may start having difficulty breathing (it gets hot, and if you're
short, you won't withstand it for too long). Sure enough, at some point we
saw about 5 boys, about 10-12 years old, pushing their way out of the
crowd, with one them screaming: "we can't breathe, they keep knocking us
left and right, and then they wonder why we want to leave this place." The
way he said it was hilarious, and everyone just laughed as they made way
for the kids.
Another example: on my way to the demo, right before I reached the crowd
around the corner, I saw a man and his family, three very young children,
including one in a trolley. Three other men walking the other way, who
clearly were not acquainted with him, looked at him and said "where are
you going? You really should not take her (girl in trolley) there." They
explained that they had just left the crowds and that the kids, especially
the girl, could get hurt.
Final example: people shouting slogans did so in an almost automatic way.
It was comical at some points. Because we were all pressed against each
other and trying to make way for ourselves, we could barely here the
speakers (at one point I found myself pushing two young guys apart who
were about to come to blows. If they only knew I was an uninvited
tourist). But some people around me would still shout slogans after they
heard others doing it. "What? What are they saying? Oh, ok. Death to
Israel! Death to Israel!" and so on. When Nasrallah declared 4 more demos
in the coming days, some around me, although they adore the man, looked at
each other, smiled, and said "what, does he think we've got nothing else
to do?" Another replied, "It's ok, it means we won't have to go to school
on those days." But I saw nothing of the sort at opposition demos.
Everyone who was there wanted to be there.
On a minor note, some of my opposition friends seemed to believe reports
that Syria had sent buses filled with thousands of Syrians to increase the
numbers of today's demo. It made no sense to me from the start. These days
especially, reporters are all over the border areas to observe Syrian
troop movements. How on earth could the Syrians get all these buses
through without the media getting a single shot? No one could answer that
question. I even kept an eye out for them at the demo, and while it was
obvious that most of the people today looked very different from those in
the opposition demo (not as sophisticated, as well dressed or
individualistic, but on the other hand, far friendlier and more
disciplined) none were Syrian as far as I could tell -- although there
was another newspaper article today reporting that many Syrians living in
Lebanon have been participating in the opposition demos (i.e. against
their own government in Damascus), but doing so in disguise out of fear of
retribution. It showed how these Syrians were conflicted: on the one hand
they are Syrian and do not like their regime; on the other hand they love
Lebanon, but do not feel comfortable with the tendency among some Lebanese
to fail to distinguish between the Syrian regime and its people.
The other side? But most importantly, I really don't feel like the two
demos were polar opposites. Hezbollah has not called for Syria to keep its
forces in Lebanon (the opposition insists on their withdrawal); nor has
Hezbollah condemned the right of the opposition to make these and other
demands; instead, Hezbollah has wisely insisted that enough is enough; if
you want people on the streets, then here we are; just like you, we can
pack the city squares, but the real solution is in dialogue; let's sit
together and form a government of national unity; let's organize
elections; and so on. Incidentally, this agrees with an op-ed I read today
from a Christian political analyst ("at some point, you need to sit down,
reconcile differences, and get things moving").
On a micro level, I had a wonderful discussion with a random young man. He
was with his friends, but our conversation was engrossing enough for him
to ditch them for a while. I started by asking him - a Shiite from the
South -- how a country so small could contain such opposing visions of
what Lebanon ought to be. "This is democracy, this is the beauty of
democracy" he said, and you could tell he truly believed it. But as we
carried on, it was clear that we were closer than we thought:
He agreed that Syria had committed many mistakes, though they had treated
the Shiites, especially Hezbollah, very well. "They gave us arms when the
Israelis used to bomb us every day. Not a single day could I go to school
without looking up at the sky for their jet planes dropping bombs on us."
Sure, I said, I am part Palestinian and know full well how atrocious the
Israelis can be, but if it's Syrian arms you want, they can provide those
to you from their side of the border, without us having to deal with their
intelligence morons here in Beirut. Besides, what really made the Lebanese
victorious over the Israelis, the only ones to achieve this among Arab
states, is not Syrian arms, but Lebanese consensus over the need to defeat
them, which included full Christian political support to Hezbollah. "I
agree", he said, "and it was also due to the Lebanese character; the
Lebanese fought as individuals with free will, not because some leader
told them to fight". And then he whispered, "Look, between the two of us,
if the Americans were to invade Syria tomorrow, these guys would not last
two days, just like the Iraqis, not because they love the Americans, but
because they hate their government even more". Really, you believe this
(me too), but then why are you shouting slogans in support of Syria? He
replied that it was only slogans, only to show thanks to Syria for
supporting them, but that he was glad they were on their way out. "I am
not taken by all this circus; it's necessary but they do not represent my
He then asked me, "Why are all those guys, euh, in Jounieh (a city in the
Christian heartland of Lebanon) so happy with the Americans and their
demand for Syrian withdrawal? Where were the Americans and their demands
when Israel occupied our country? Have they developed a love for us
Lebanese overnight?" I replied that everyone among the Christians knows
the duplicity of the Americans; mind you, I live in America and I love
America, but I don't support their foreign policy. The point is that the
opposition in Lebanon is happy with American pressure as long it drives
the Syrians out, but they are not about to fall into the arms of America."
The answer almost shocked him, but in a good way.
He then stopped and asked my name, his was Mohammad. I then told him I was
a Maronite Christian (we tend to be the most nationalist among Lebanese
and most anti-Syrian and anti-Hezbollah because we suspect they want to
establish an Islamic state). This surprised him, but then he surprised me:
"You're a Maronite, my mother is Maronite. Let me tell you, I paid a dear
price because of the war we had. I come from a village that is all Shiite.
My father was the only one who married a Christian. Shortly after the war,
he was killed by Amal (the other major, secular, Shiite party that no one
talks about outside Lebanon) because he married my mother. As you know,
people then were not as rational and enlightened as we are today. After
that, my mother, who was too young, had to remarry, and my grandparents
insisted on raising me themselves. They did not want me to live with my
mother's husband and his family. So because of the war, I grew up without
a father and without a mother. And yet here I am, standing next to Amal
demonstrators. I won't blame them all for what happened to my father. I
leave it to God to punish the murderers. I have to live my life."
No one knows what will happen in the coming days, weeks and months. People
are worried, though happy or resigned (depending on which side) that the
country is moving in a new direction. But what happens next? There's lots
of work to be done. The economy is a mess, and we are embarking once more
on a democratic experiment that brought us to war before. As former Prime
Minister - and exceptionally incorruptible - Dr Salim Hoss keeps reminding
the Lebanese: we never had democracy in Lebanon; we are merely a people
that always had freedoms. But those are two different things. Successful
democracies do not move from one crisis to another every 10-15 years. We
need to fix the system.
Received 4 pm EST, Sunday, 3/6/05
I am still dizzy. I thought that with the passage of time, I may be able
to make something cohesive out of the situation. But I still can't, and
sleep has been a stingy friend as of late.
So again, here are tidbits:
These days, the greatest sight to see at Martyrs' Square - where the main
demos take place - is not the always beautiful Lebanese girls, but their
grandmothers. You see them sprinkled here and there, and as they say,
their silence is a deafening protest cry. While the kids scream, shout,
flirt, hold hands, and tell jokes, sitto's (grandmas) sit quietly on
sidewalks, or stroll around the square, either keeping their eyes on their
progeny, or looking into the distance. Their eyes are always deep in
thought. I would kill for a conversation with one. I can just imagine it:
they remember martyrs' square back when the statue was first placed; they
saw Beirut's golden age, and its dark moments; they've seen its
reconstruction, and now, its liberation, again. I say again because
martyrs' square is so named because this is where those who rebelled
against the Ottomans from Istanbul, in the early 20th century, were
publicly hanged. They were all doctors, lawyers, and intellectuals. At the
time, Beirut was giving rise to an Arab renaissance, printing books and
dictionaries in the Arabic language, and mixing Arab identity with an
imported European concept of nationalism, in the Arab version. The Sittos
have seen it all, and today Martyrs' Square has been renamed to the Square
of Martyrdom and Independence.
The Assad Jr Speech
Lebanese protestors at the square set up big screens to watch the much
awaited speech by Assad Jr, who was appointed by Assad Sr, who took over
Syria from another dictator, who had taken over Syria from a previous
dictator.Anyway, in the run up to the speech, a few thousand protestors
had gathered, as they do everyday. Journalists were all over the place. I
was with a friend of mine. We were approached by a BBC Arabic news service
and asked why we were here. I must admit I got a bit dramatic, and I told
her I came all the way from DC to be here, in this square, to be with the
protestors (which is only ¾ true; but she seemed to like the answer). The
crowd was not as big as usual, probably because, judging from my friends,
many were now sick with the flu or lost their voices because of all the
shouting they had done in previous days. My friend, who's a urologist, was
himself recovering his voice (being with him, I learned that many Lebanese
doctors have now made it a habit to stop by the square on their way home
from the clinic or the operating room. They all run into each other here).
Assad Jr was angry, and you could tell. He insulted the Lebanese several
times, and portrayed Syria as a big brother that only wanted to assist
their little brother who could not manage his own affairs
(Haraaaaaaaam!!!! was our refrain, which is what you say in Levantine
Arabic when you want to show compassion for someone, something like "poor
fellow". The extra a's, mixed with the right mocking tone, is when you
exaggerate to show you don't really mean it).
Junior also complained about the media, as dictators tend to do. He said
that cameramen were narrowing the shot to make the place look packed with
crowds (reminds me of campaign politics in America). As he said this, I
could see on the other screen a cameraman widening his shot and moving the
camera left and right to show the full spectrum of protestors. At the end
of Junior's speech, at about 7:30pm, a protest leader took the stage and
said: "That guy in Syria says we are too few, but remember one thing, each
one of you is worth a hundred thousand persons, because you are free, and
unlike those packed in front of the Syrian parliament, you came of your
own free will". He then asked everyone to call their friends and ask them
to join. When I drove by the square on my home, after dinner with my
uncle, at about midnight, the place had grown four-fold. Thank you Assad
a) I could not help it; I went up to a friendly looking soldier and asked
if I could pose some questions to him. He said, sure, as long as I did not
embarrass him (i.e. put him in a tough spot). So I asked him, after a few
moments of light jokes, how he felt being there, observing the protestors
calling for his country's independence while he's there on the sidelines.
After a few moments, he found his words: "I am a Lebanese citizen, like
all these guys over there; my interpretation of my duty now is to protect
them and make sure they're safe. And when the weekend comes, I'll be
standing with them."
b) Late last night, before heading home, I drove to the sight of the
explosion where Hariri was assassinated. I parked my car and walked over
as close as I can, which is where barriers were set up to protect the
scene of the crime for the investigators. It was after midnight and barely
anyone was there except the police. So I asked one of them about where the
exact location was, and that sort of thing. At some point, he interrupted
me and said: "Tell me, are the protestors still at the square?" yes, I
said, in fact their number has grown since Assad's speech. "That's a good
thing!" he said.
Syria and Syrians
Shortly after Hariri's death, some angry Lebanese went nuts, especially in
Hariri's hometown of Sidon. They targeted several of the nearly 1 million
Syrian workers in Lebanon (actually, one of the main gripes of the
Lebanese is that some take jobs away from Lebanese because they accept
much lower pay, without benefits. They also do not pay tax or need a work
permit to work in Lebanon). I heard reports of many Syrians being beaten,
I think some were killed, and many had fled to Syria.
But I am happy to report that such practices were heavily and quickly
condemned by politicians of all stripes, and it has ended. Even at the
square, protest leaders regularly remind protestors that the struggle is
not against the Syrian people, but their regime. Besides, as one said, "if
we want a meter from their regime, the Syrian people want a kilometer;
they are ten times the victims that we are". In one case, a protestor
apparently insisted on his remarks against
Syrians as a people (I could not hear him), he was escorted out after
Here's an edited email exchange with an older and wiser friend - and old
boss, after he read my first email (which is attached below).
Dear XX -
What's going on here? Serbia, Ukraine, elections in Iraq - and now
Lebanon. Are individuals in many countries beginning to sense the power
of the common man and real possibility that a system in their country
might develop that would give them a measure of influence?
SURE, BUT IT ALSO MEANS THAT PEOPLE KNOW THEY HAVE SERIOUS SUPPORTERS IN
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION IF THEY STAND UP TO THEIR RULERS. LEBANESE
DEMOCRATS HAVE BEEN ASKING FOR EURO AND US SUPPORT FOR YEARS, BUT NOW THEY
KNOW THEY HAVE IT.
OTHERS MIGHT ALSO SUGGEST THAT SATELITE TV HAS BROUGHT THE WORLD CLOSER;
PEOPLE ARE LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER.
NOTE THAT IN LEBANON, THERE ALWAYS WERE ELECTIONS. THE SYRIANS AND THEIR
PROXY HAVE BEEN TIGHTENING THE NOOSE ON THESE, SLOWLY BUT SURELY, UNTIL
THE KILLING OF HARIRI MADE THE SUNNI COMMUNITY, PREVIOUSLY A RELUCTANT
ALLY TO SYRIA, SNAP TO ITS FEET AND DEMAND AN END TO SYRIAN HEGEMONY. BY
DOING SO, THEY FORMALLY STRENGHTHENED THE MAINLY CHRISTIAN AND DRUZE
OPPOSITION BY EXPANDING IT. ONLY THE SHIITES REMAIN ON THE SIDELINES FOR
IT'S THE DUMBEST MOVE BY THE SYRIANS EVER. THEY HAVE BEEN VERY SHREWD ALL
ALONG. SOME SAY THEY KNEW THEIR TIME WAS COMING (UN RESOLUTION 1559; US
THREATS) AND REPORTEDLY, ASSAD THREATENED LEBANESE LEADERS THAT IF SYRIA
IS FORCED TO LEAVE LEBANON, IT WILL SOW DESTRUCTION ON ITS WAY OUT.
What does this mean for the Middle East? Has Mubarak lit a fire he cannot
put out? Could George Bush be right? Egad!!
IT MEANS THAT THE MIDDLE EAST MAY FINALLY BE JOINING THE WAVE OF
DEMOCRATIZATION THAT HAS SWEPT THROUGH SOUTH AMERICA, SE ASIA, AND AFRICA
- AS MUCH AS I DON'T LIKE BUSH.
MUBARAK HAS NOT LIT ANY FIRES. EGYPT IS A LONG WAY BEFORE IT REACHES ANY
SERIOUS DEGREE OF DEMOCRACY. BUT IT IS A SIGN OF THE TIMES THAT HE FELT
COMPELLED TO MAKE SPACE FOR AN OPPONENT IN THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.
BUSH IS NOT RIGHT, JUST LUCKY. LEBANESE ARE VERY SUSPICIOUS OF AMERICANS
AND THEIR SUPPORT (EVEN THOUGH THEY'LL TAKE IT). THEY'VE BEEN BURNED
BEFORE, LIKE OTHER ARABS. THE AGENDA IS LEBANESE, BUT IT HAS FOUND CRUCIAL
AMERICAN SUPPORT. THE QUESTION IS, WHAT DO THE AMERICANS WANT IN RETURN,
KNOWING THAT THEIR ULTIMATE ALLY HERE IS ISRAEL, AND THEIR ULTIMATE
INTEREST IS OIL. AT LEAST, THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE HERE ARE CONSTANTLY WARY OF.
It has to be an immensely exciting time for you.
ABSOLUTELY. AND EVERYTHING FEELS RIGHT. I AM WORRIED ABOUT THE FUTURE, BUT
AT THE SAME TIME, LIKE MANY OTHER LEBANESE, I WANT TO SAVOR THE MOMENT.
All the same, don't entirely reject the old gentleman's advice as passe.
Remember you are an American and that carries benefits and penalties.
NO ONE CONSIDERS ME AN AMERICAN IN LEBANON. AS SOON AS I BOARDED THE
MIDDLE EAST AIRLINES (LEBANESE CARRIER) PLANE IN FRANKFURT, I WAS MADE TO
FEEL LEBANESE. THE HEAD OF THE CREW SAW MY NAME ON THE BOARDING PASS AND
SAID "MR HABSHI, ARE YOU FROM XX VILLAGE?" THEN PERSONALLY LED ME TO MY
SEAT. HIS COUSIN IS MARRIED TO A HABSHI GIRL. THEN A HOSTESS GAVE ME A BIG
SMILE AND SAID "SO YOU'RE A HABSHI. WELCOME."
If you become involved in a way that brings you to the attention of those
trying to regain control of the situation, you are easier to identify as
an individual problem and to target. Don't develop a false sense of
I WON'T AND THAT IS A VERY GOOD POINT YOU MAKE ABOUT THOSE TRYING TO
REGAIN CONTROL. SOME LEBANESE WERE EXTREMELY WORRIED LAST WEEK ABOUT WHAT
THEY MIGHT DO, NAMELY THE HEZBOLLAH WHO ARE ESSENTIALLY THE BIGGEST LOCAL
LOSERS IN THE LONG RUN. BUT THE LATTER HAVE NOT BEEN RASH. SOME SAY THAT
SYRIA WAS WILLING TO SELL THEM TO THE AMERICANS IN RETURN FOR THE SURVIVAL
OF THEIR REGIME (NOTE THE HAND-OVER OF SADDAM'S HALF BROTHER LAST WEEK).
THE TALK HERE IS THAT THE AMERICANS MADE IT CLEAR THEY WEREN'T IN THE MOOD
FOR NEGOTIATION. AS THEY SAY, BUSH IS GOING FOR THE JUGULAR. KNOWING THIS,
HEZBOLLAH PLAYED IT WISELY BY KEEPING SOME DISTANCE FROM DAMASCUS AND
TRYING TO RECEIVE ASSURANCE FROM THE LEBANESE OPPOSITION THAT THEY'LL KEEP
A PRIVILEGED ROLE IN THE LEBANESE THEATER. FOR ITS PART, THE OPPOSITION
HAS GLADLY AGREED, FOR NOW. AFTER ALL, HEZBOLLAH IS THE ONLY ARMED
POLITICAL PARTY IN LEBANON. THEY ARE ALSO DISCIPLINED POLITICALLY AND
MILITARILY. IT'S ALWAYS WISE TO TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY.
Seek and listen to advice from a spectrum of those whom you respect. I
don't say take it but do seek and listen to it.
I AM. BUT ALL THOSE EVERYONE RESPECTS ARE EITHER WITH THE OPPOSITION OR ON
THE SIDELINES, BUT I WILL DO MY BEST TO REACH OUT.
I AM ALSO TAKING AS MANY TAXI RIDES AS I CAN, EVEN WHEN THEY'RE NOT GOING
WHERE I AM. TAXI CABS IN LEBANON TAKE PASSENGERS ALONG THE WAY, LIKE A BUS
WOULD, AND THEY MAKE FOR GREAT POLITICAL TALKING SHOPS FOR THE COMMON MAN.
I MAKE SURE TO PROVOKE THE DISCUSSION AND THEN LEARN A TON.
And for the finale, an open letter to our president, Emile Lahoud, emailed
to me by my mother.
I really have to congratulate you for the way you are holding yourself as
a Lebanese President; elected !!! to serve and protect the interest of
Lebanon and its people. You deserve the ultimate Medal of Honor for your
loyalty, we are really proud. What can I say? History is going to remember
you as the greatest subservient for Lebanon. It is a great honor really;
you should walk with your head high. We are really grateful for the
protection of Syria as you keep mentioning.
While you are at it, please thank them for protecting us from the Israeli
invasion 1982, Thank them for protecting us from Mr. Kamal Jumblat,
President elected Bashir Gemayel, President elected Rene Mouawad, Mufti
Hassan Khalid, Mr. Dany Shamoun, his dangerous Wife and 2 little kids and
our general Michel Aoun who asked his soldiers to follow your orders in
1991 in order to stop our protective Syria from destroying Lebanon.
You should also thank them for protecting us against all the innocent
civilians detained and tortured in Syrian jails. Thank them for the 15
innocent civilians who were rounded up and shot as a bonus on Oct 13th
1990 including 3 women. Thank them for the officer who was asked to lay
down flat on the ground while they ran a tank over him.
How about the 200 civilians shot execution style after maiming their faces
so they cannot be identified?? While you are on the subject, you should
also give them a big thanks from all the Lebanese who died under torture
in Syrian prisons and the massive grave sites of more than 2,800
skeletons, which was destroyed by the Intelligence (Mukhabarat) as an
attempt to dispose of any evidence, Lebanon should be grateful for all
their efforts to preserve peace don't you think. I have to admire you
also, for linking our freedom with the peace process in the region, and
the return of Golan Heights to Syria, Why not also link their withdrawal
to Abou Sayaf in the Philippines, the Moritania movement in Morocco, the
Chechnian rebels in Russia?
Why not go all the way for world peace even. Lebanon should be proud. I
was really happy when I visited my country after 20 years, especially
seeing the great view in front of the presidential palace the heart of our
autonomy. I was really happy with the Syrian posts in front of our
Universities protecting the students from openly asking the Syrian to
leave the country. I was full with joy to learn, how the Syrians are
protecting our Defense Ministry, it is really a pretty site. However,
since they are the protector, why not ask them to have posts in front of
every hotel. It would be great for tourism. I also heard that green
monkeys from Mars are coming down to help the farmers. It would be wise if
you ask the Syrians to go on full alert to stop the Martian invasion, how
about it. History is keeping records, and so are we? Have a great
Presidency. Sincerely, A true Lebanese
N.B.: Please forward this letter to anyone if you are a true Lebanese
Received 6 pm EST, Friday, 3/4/05
I am back in Lebanon... The place is on fire. A social and political
revolution is in the making. I feel like I am in the right place at the
right time. It's Friday night in Beirut; I have not slept since Thursday
morning, DC time, and I am still not sure when I will finally doze off.
As usual in such situations, there is much to tell. I am trying to put it
all down on paper, but I can't organize it quickly enough. So the
following are tidbits.
The basics: Rafiq Hariri, a self-made billionaire from a small southern
coastal town, Sidon, was recently assassinated. There is no concrete
evidence linking anyone to the crime, but it's irrelevant; the next day,
thousands of Lebanese from all walks of life descended on downtown Beirut,
which Hariri had rebuilt during his several post-war tenures as prime
minister, and where he was killed, to demand the withdrawal of Syrian
forces and their intelligence services from Lebanon, and for the
resignation of the Lebanese puppet government. It is a popular uprising in
its truest form; and while spontaneous, the feelings it represents are
Since that day, everything has shifted in Lebanon; and judging by the Arab
media and its ridiculous cadre of wannabe democrats, the Arab world may be
shifting as well.
Arab Media Coverage
Al Jazeera: initial reports were almost annoyed at the demonstrators and
their seemingly unreasonable or naïve demands for justice. But two days
ago, I heard one correspondent state to his audience: "Imagine, 25,000
Arabs loudly demonstrating outside an Arab parliament, where an Arab prime
minister and his cabinet are taken to task by elected Arab MP's, and where
they succeed in bringing down the government. This is unheard of in the
Al Arabiya: today interviewing a spokesperson of one of the main
opposition political parties, the discussion went as follows: AA: so what
are your goals now that the government has resigned?
Guest: well, we want all heads of intelligence services to resign
immediately and certainly before the coming parliamentary elections
(slated for May 2005)
AA: well, but why are you making such demands? (in a fatherly, chiding
tone) Guest: well, we feel these are basic conditions before any dialogue
can take place with the president over the management of the transitional
period leading to the elections. We have rights as citizens, to live
freely and with dignity, and without these rights being trampled on.
AA: but some opposition members are even demanding that these intelligence
chiefs be brought to justice (now in an incredulous tone)
Guest: and why not? These are, after all, government employees, paid for
by our government, and they are implicated in this murder, either by acts
of commission, negligence or incompetence. So why not bring them to
justice. And with that, the interview ended.
Me, at Amman airport recently: without getting into details, an airport
security officer behaved in a rude manner towards me while I waiting in
line with others to get a visa stamp. I told him sternly to mind his own
business (which, I assure you, was warranted). Everyone else in the
waiting crowd got nervous and looked down, while one of them, an older man
from a Gulf country, assumed the fatherly tone, and advised me,
whispering, that although I was right, I should keep quiet because "you
never know what they'll do to you". He was not threatening me, but
actually looking out for me. Nothing happened, but it was such a telling
episode about the Arab citizen and his relation with authority.
Well, Beirut was always the exception, though recently the Syrians and
their proxy were squeezing those liberties to the maximum, and in the
process, as in every other case in Lebanon's past 100 years, they got
burned instead. It was about time too.
The day the government resigned was not supposed to witness thousands of
demonstrators outside the parliament building. The interior minister,
another Syrian stooge, had ordered a no-go zone in certain parts of Beirut
to prevent that scenario. But here's what happened, according to people
who were there:
A. "We got to the area where the army and police were standing guard. We
told them we wanted to get in. They smiled, asked us to calm down and
listen to them. Their plan was that we would wait until the crowd was
larger, then at the right moment, we would push them out of the way, they
would pretend to be holding us back, until they could no longer withstand
the pressure, and we would be in. It worked flawlessly."
B. "My friends and I had agreed to meet outside parliament. Each would be
responsible for getting himself in. When I saw the first soldiers, I and
others pleaded with them to let us in. They said they could not allow us
passage, but that if we went around the corner and took a first left,
there was a hole in the security belt, and that's where we could get in.
And we did."
The irony is that the army used to revere the current president, back when
he was the head of all armed forces, because he had rebuilt it into a
non-sectarian fighting force. Christian and Moslems, townsmen and
villagers, southerners and northerners, were forced to serve together,
study a new Lebanese history, and get to know each other. They loved him
one and all. He then became a promising and potentially historical
president, until, like some presidents before him, he caught the Arab
ruler's flue and tried to extend his stay. He succeeded only because Syria
was backing him, and then only up to a point, as we see today. The
Lebanese, once more, have brought a would-be tyrant to his knees.
In 1958, another president, though far more brilliant and capable, Camille
Chamoun, had tried to pull off the same stunt. The Lebanese rebelled. When
the president ordered the head of the armed forces to quell them, he
refused. And Chamoun was forced to leave office at the end of his
Lebanon's youth are the biggest winners. A few weeks ago, many would have
been smoking pot and getting drunk at any one of Beriut's numerous
nightclubs and bars. Today, as my friend observed, they have proven
themselves to be a worthy custodian of Lebanese aspirations for full
independence; and they know it. One telling graffiti states: "Faja'nakom,
moo?" ("We surprised you, didn't we?" in a mock Syrian dialect). People
believe that Syria never calculated that killing Hariri would spark such a
well organized and committed group of rebels. And that was the surprise.
But maybe the joke is also on the Lebanese political elites -- from both
camps. The opposition especially, while well organized, was always too
cautious and seemed to prefer a steady, step-by-step approach to ending
Syrian hegemony. In the end, it was Lebanon's youth who loudly declared
that the Damascene emperor had no clothes, and the opposition found the
courage to ride their coattails.
The youth, or "Shabeb" in the Lebanese dialect, have erected 24-hour
tents, get food from various charity groups, and even have their mobile
toilets (the ones you see at construction sites; I forget their name).
One 12 year old boy I read about today goes to school in the day, gets
home, does his homework, then joins the daily evening rallies till late at
night. Then he goes to sleep and repeats. I think I saw him, or another
kid like him, tonight.
Mostly, it's high school and college kids, boys and girls, well off and
poor, who come every day. Initially, they carried an array of flags,
representing Lebanon's various political currents, until opposition
leaders asked that only one flag be carried, the Lebanese national flag
(the flag, which has a green cedar tree prominently at its center, has the
advantage of being wildly popular with western environmentalists; and
while I am biased, it really is one of the prettier flags around).
To give you an idea of how disciplined and confident these kids are, the
following announcement was made at 10pm sharp tonight. A few seconds ago,
the kids were shouting slogans until a young man their age spoke softly
but with authority:
"Shabeb, number 1, you will all come here tomorrow at 2pm wearing white
form the waist up; number 2, please remember that we are educated and
cultured, behave accordingly at all times. We do not want anyone to
ridicule us; it is we, after all, who are ridiculing everyone, right?"
Christians and Moslems
Hariri's mausoleum is well organized; people are solemn and quiet, even as
they make their way out of a shouting crowd 100 feet away. Around his
grave, a half circle of Christian candles with renditions of Mary and the
Christ. Outside that circle, Moslem visitors praying silently, their lips
moving, to the memory of Hariri.
On our way home, my friend and I saw two doctors, a Christian and a Moslem
walking towards the mausoleum. After greeting my friend, they excused
themselves and proceeded, then one of them turned back apologetically and
said "we came to pray".
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