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Published on October 29th, 2012 | by Firas Kay
Image © [caption id="attachment_11276" align="alignnone" width="566"]Confrontation - Army vs Protesters Dystopian Scenes: Confrontation – Army vs Protesters, Free Syria flag can be seen in background. (©Getty)[/caption] It was a dystopian scene of chaos in Beirut on Sunday afternoon following the funeral of slain security chief General Wissam al-Hassan. Lebanese youths from very diverse sociocultural, ideological and religious backgrounds ready and willing to take on the corrupt establishment embodied in the Prime Minister's office, and a monumentally weak leadership represented by two former Prime Ministers (Hariri and Senoira) who deserted them at their direst hour of need. The footage of hundreds of disenchanted March 14 youths in their makeshift, half a dozen or so tents, so despairingly lost with the lack of leadership, brought to mind scenes from Beirut in 2008. Back then, lightly armed Future Movement party faithful were deserted in their Hamra Street offices as they faced the heavily armed, Iranian trained militias of Hezbollah, SSNP and Amal during the May conflict. Suddenly a pattern emerged; rile up the youths so desperate for change, put them on the front lines, and then disassociate yourself from them when they've served a political purpose. Lebanon's political scene, long divided along hard-line ideological differences, has been going through rapid changes in the past couple of months. The Sunni street, a Harriri powerhouse, has been showing worrying and clear signs of disintegration into coordinated chaos as a result of the disastrous situation in neighbouring Syria. The rise of hardline Islamic factions with a clear-cut anti-Hezbollah, pro-Sunni rhetoric has been on the rise, not least in the strongholds of Tripoli and Sidon. And although many of these Islamists claim allegiance to the state and their stance in principle promotes anti-militia views, the reality is that many in Lebanon are terrified. Not least because many of these are ironically armed themselves, furthering the dangerous unprecedented divide in former ‘Pearl of the Middle East’. A couple of years back, having just attended an anniversary rally of March 14, an annual event that has been held since that historic date in 2005, I had a spontaneous conversation with an activist on the ground. “They killed our revolution” he told me, referring to a banner held by a young boy showing various leaders of the March 14 movement. A bit baffled, I questioned why he thought so, and in a more logical context, why he was there in the first place. “Because the people made the 14th of March” he repeated several times, “the people kicked out the Syrians”, referring to the withdrawal of some 14,000 occupying Syrian soldiers in the weeks following the ‘Cedar Revolution’. The Cedar Revolution, widely considered by many in Lebanon as the blueprint for the start of the series of spontaneous demonstrations across the Arab world, and hailed by many as an example of non-violent revolution, has been considered a success across many levels. The unprecedented unity among what was previously considered a “war torn” sectarian society, coupled with massive international support, managed to topple governments and rid the country of the Syrian occupation. But much to the dismay of the youths and masses that made March14 happen, in the first election (post-Syrian occupation), many of the political forces that took part in the revolution have formed what can only be considered as ‘illogical’ alliances. The Future movement (FM, led by Saad Harriri) and Progressive Socialist Party (PSP, led by Walid Jumblatt) went into an electoral alliance with Hezbollah and Amal, the former would later on have four of its leading members indicted by the Special Tribunal of Lebanon (STL) in the assassination of Rafic Hariri, the very event which sparked the revolution. [caption id="attachment_11275" align="alignnone" width="566"]Beirut Blast - Killed 3 including General Hassan, Injured over 100 Beirut Blast - Killed 3 including General Hassan, Injured over 100 (©Reuters)[/caption] The ‘Quartet Alliance’ created ripple effects which are still felt across the Lebanese political scene to this day. Firstly, many core activists began to realize that March14 were just another corrupt political entity only interested in political gains. Secondly, the alliance signaled the beginning of the end of the Cedar Revolution. In the following general election, in 2009, March14 would repeat the same mistake and form an alliance with Najib Mikati and his friends; the man who would later on turn on March14 and form a government widely believed to have been ordered by Bashar Al Assad and architected by Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah. Those collective failures on the side of March14, coupled with the heavy armed militia presence of Hezbollah (latest estimates put Hezbollah's rocket arsenal at 100,000) on the Lebanese political scene, in addition to an increasingly complicated regional situation, made many in Lebanon quite ambivalent towards the political process altogether in the years following the revolution. The situation was made even worse when Hezbollah took the nation to war with Israel in 2006 and later on put major parts of the country, including the capital, under its direct militia control during the conflict of May 2008. The stagnant Lebanese situation was however vigorously shaken in 2011, initially with the start of the uprisings in the Arab world, and later on in neighbouring Syria with the Syrian revolution. Suddenly, corrupt parties that existed in Lebanon for decades solely because of direct Syrian backing faced erosion. Hezbollah’s internal factions were at odds, and Walid Jumblatt was re-invigorated. The rise of the fearless youths across the Arab world and particularly in Syria with so much purpose, made the Lebanese achievements of 2005 seem like historic events that took place decades ago. The civil awareness of the Arab youths was now a model to go by, and the Syrian resistance to Assad’s ruthless killing machine took on an almost mythical status. It is therefore quite unfortunate that the most crippling factor stopping Lebanese activists is the constant collective fear of the return of civil war in society. It’s probably been the most destructive factor of Lebanese political life in recent years, and one which constantly halts the country’s progress. It is this fear that led Walid Jumblatt to abandon March 14 and form a government with the Syrian puppets in Lebanon, the same people who assassinated his father. It is also what keeps the country in an eternal loop of “concessionary” politics. Most importantly in this context, it is what drove Seniora and Hariri to immediately issue pleas last Sunday for the demonstrators to retreat and go home. This fear must be removed from Lebanese society if it is to truly progress; where would they be in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt if they didn't break the fear barrier? In many ways, this fear to Lebanon is what the fear of dictators is to the Arab world. This extortionist de-facto trade off between security and lack of freedoms in Lebanon should end; the Syrian revolution has got to be a model of bravery to be followed. Security cannot be chosen over a society based on freedom, democracy, justice and equality. Long lasting security of course, can only come as a direct result from building a civil society where equality prevails and militias are outlawed. Many in Lebanon may be hoping that the Syrian revolution would get rid of Assad hence his Syrian allies in Lebanon and subsequently the Hezbolla problem would at least be partly resolved. If true, this is both immoral and impractical; the Lebanese cannot expect others to solve their problems. I call on the Lebanese youths to ditch the corrupt leaders of March14 and revert back to the basics, the people movement led by causes and not political ambitions, and to start the process of proper reform. The fall of this government, the Syrian regime and Hezbolla’s weapons are inevitable, but the process can only be achieved through an organised campaign of civil resistance across all levels of society. The fear of war must be broken; progress cannot be stopped because Syria’s Lebanese agents are willing to bring chaos to Lebanon at any time - a self-deprecating status-quo. Perhaps it is time Beirut finally joined what it paved the way for, the Arab Spring, perhaps it is time for Beirut's spring of change to loom.

3

Special Report: Beirut and the Spring of Change

Confrontation - Army vs Protesters

Dystopian Scenes: Confrontation – Army vs Protesters, Free Syria flag can be seen in background. (©Getty)

It was a dystopian scene of chaos in Beirut on Sunday afternoon following the funeral of slain security chief General Wissam al-Hassan. Lebanese youths from very diverse sociocultural, ideological and religious backgrounds ready and willing to take on the corrupt establishment embodied in the Prime Minister’s office, and a monumentally weak leadership represented by two former Prime Ministers (Hariri and Senoira) who deserted them at their direst hour of need.

The footage of hundreds of disenchanted March 14 youths in their makeshift, half a dozen or so tents, so despairingly lost with the lack of leadership, brought to mind scenes from Beirut in 2008. Back then, lightly armed Future Movement party faithful were deserted in their Hamra Street offices as they faced the heavily armed, Iranian trained militias of Hezbollah, SSNP and Amal during the May conflict. Suddenly a pattern emerged; rile up the youths so desperate for change, put them on the front lines, and then disassociate yourself from them when they’ve served a political purpose.

Lebanon’s political scene, long divided along hard-line ideological differences, has been going through rapid changes in the past couple of months. The Sunni street, a Harriri powerhouse, has been showing worrying and clear signs of disintegration into coordinated chaos as a result of the disastrous situation in neighbouring Syria. The rise of hardline Islamic factions with a clear-cut anti-Hezbollah, pro-Sunni rhetoric has been on the rise, not least in the strongholds of Tripoli and Sidon. And although many of these Islamists claim allegiance to the state and their stance in principle promotes anti-militia views, the reality is that many in Lebanon are terrified. Not least because many of these are ironically armed themselves, furthering the dangerous unprecedented divide in former ‘Pearl of the Middle East’.

A couple of years back, having just attended an anniversary rally of March 14, an annual event that has been held since that historic date in 2005, I had a spontaneous conversation with an activist on the ground. “They killed our revolution” he told me, referring to a banner held by a young boy showing various leaders of the March 14 movement. A bit baffled, I questioned why he thought so, and in a more logical context, why he was there in the first place. “Because the people made the 14th of March” he repeated several times, “the people kicked out the Syrians”, referring to the withdrawal of some 14,000 occupying Syrian soldiers in the weeks following the ‘Cedar Revolution’.

The Cedar Revolution, widely considered by many in Lebanon as the blueprint for the start of the series of spontaneous demonstrations across the Arab world, and hailed by many as an example of non-violent revolution, has been considered a success across many levels. The unprecedented unity among what was previously considered a “war torn” sectarian society, coupled with massive international support, managed to topple governments and rid the country of the Syrian occupation. But much to the dismay of the youths and masses that made March14 happen, in the first election (post-Syrian occupation), many of the political forces that took part in the revolution have formed what can only be considered as ‘illogical’ alliances. The Future movement (FM, led by Saad Harriri) and Progressive Socialist Party (PSP, led by Walid Jumblatt) went into an electoral alliance with Hezbollah and Amal, the former would later on have four of its leading members indicted by the Special Tribunal of Lebanon (STL) in the assassination of Rafic Hariri, the very event which sparked the revolution.

Beirut Blast - Killed 3 including General Hassan, Injured over 100

Beirut Blast – Killed 3 including General Hassan, Injured over 100 (©Reuters)

The ‘Quartet Alliance’ created ripple effects which are still felt across the Lebanese political scene to this day. Firstly, many core activists began to realize that March14 were just another corrupt political entity only interested in political gains. Secondly, the alliance signaled the beginning of the end of the Cedar Revolution. In the following general election, in 2009, March14 would repeat the same mistake and form an alliance with Najib Mikati and his friends; the man who would later on turn on March14 and form a government widely believed to have been ordered by Bashar Al Assad and architected by Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah.

Those collective failures on the side of March14, coupled with the heavy armed militia presence of Hezbollah (latest estimates put Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal at 100,000) on the Lebanese political scene, in addition to an increasingly complicated regional situation, made many in Lebanon quite ambivalent towards the political process altogether in the years following the revolution. The situation was made even worse when Hezbollah took the nation to war with Israel in 2006 and later on put major parts of the country, including the capital, under its direct militia control during the conflict of May 2008.

The stagnant Lebanese situation was however vigorously shaken in 2011, initially with the start of the uprisings in the Arab world, and later on in neighbouring Syria with the Syrian revolution. Suddenly, corrupt parties that existed in Lebanon for decades solely because of direct Syrian backing faced erosion. Hezbollah’s internal factions were at odds, and Walid Jumblatt was re-invigorated. The rise of the fearless youths across the Arab world and particularly in Syria with so much purpose, made the Lebanese achievements of 2005 seem like historic events that took place decades ago. The civil awareness of the Arab youths was now a model to go by, and the Syrian resistance to Assad’s ruthless killing machine took on an almost mythical status.

It is therefore quite unfortunate that the most crippling factor stopping Lebanese activists is the constant collective fear of the return of civil war in society. It’s probably been the most destructive factor of Lebanese political life in recent years, and one which constantly halts the country’s progress. It is this fear that led Walid Jumblatt to abandon March 14 and form a government with the Syrian puppets in Lebanon, the same people who assassinated his father. It is also what keeps the country in an eternal loop of “concessionary” politics. Most importantly in this context, it is what drove Seniora and Hariri to immediately issue pleas last Sunday for the demonstrators to retreat and go home. This fear must be removed from Lebanese society if it is to truly progress; where would they be in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt if they didn’t break the fear barrier? In many ways, this fear to Lebanon is what the fear of dictators is to the Arab world.

This extortionist de-facto trade off between security and lack of freedoms in Lebanon should end; the Syrian revolution has got to be a model of bravery to be followed. Security cannot be chosen over a society based on freedom, democracy, justice and equality. Long lasting security of course, can only come as a direct result from building a civil society where equality prevails and militias are outlawed.

Many in Lebanon may be hoping that the Syrian revolution would get rid of Assad hence his Syrian allies in Lebanon and subsequently the Hezbolla problem would at least be partly resolved. If true, this is both immoral and impractical; the Lebanese cannot expect others to solve their problems. I call on the Lebanese youths to ditch the corrupt leaders of March14 and revert back to the basics, the people movement led by causes and not political ambitions, and to start the process of proper reform. The fall of this government, the Syrian regime and Hezbolla’s weapons are inevitable, but the process can only be achieved through an organised campaign of civil resistance across all levels of society. The fear of war must be broken; progress cannot be stopped because Syria’s Lebanese agents are willing to bring chaos to Lebanon at any time – a self-deprecating status-quo. Perhaps it is time Beirut finally joined what it paved the way for, the Arab Spring, perhaps it is time for Beirut’s spring of change to loom.

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  • talal khawaja

    This article is worth reading, though i disagree with many parts of it. I think it open a wide discussion, because it may lead to many interpretations(from different political and militant spectrum). I will think a lot before discussing such valuable contribution.

  • nora khawaja

    Brilliant article!!! very well said!! I think you're article is reflecting the voice of the majority of Lebanese who are fed up the both 14th March and March 8th…..I think the time has come to get rid of fear, and to say "NO". We have been led like sheep for a long time. The price of REAL freedom is never cheap.

  • jearuiz01

    This crazy

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