A New Generation is Demonstrating In Beirut
Catherine Cornet - 04/03/2005
The prevailing impression that can be drawn from Lebanese and Arab newspapers can be summarised in four words, reflecting happy surprise, “for the first time”. “For the first time, Lebanese people are getting together in the street around a common project” is the comment most often read.
One picture that has been reproduced by nearly all the main Lebanese dailies visually summarises this state of mind: a young woman carrying a flag in which the red crescent is allied with the cross stating: “together for the freedom of Lebanon”. All the symbols and slogans of the demonstrations’ show the will of this young generation to overcome the sectarian obstacles to a united and independent Lebanon.
Indeed, what strikes commentators most is the “rebirth of a people in Martyr’s Square”. Even though some would like to see it remain “just a power of the square”, Rafiq Khouri in his editorial published in Al-Anouar argues that nobody will now be able to ignore the fact that the strength of the people could finally become the “power of the people after the coming of free elections”.
In a comment for Al Hayat, the columnist Walid Choucair also considers as fundamental the fact that the Lebanese authorities let the “feelings” of the Lebanese to be freely expressed after the loss of the “martyred Prime Minister Rafiq Al Hariri”. For him, “the most dangerous thought that might occur to the authorities is to deal with these feelings by suppressing the daily activity Beirut is now witnessing. Such an approach would only result in strengthening these feelings and turn them into a political reality. It is perhaps this that led House Speaker Nabih Berri to adopt the policy of allowing the tension to express itself even if it appeared as a victory for the opposition at the expense of the government. He is one of the few people who acknowledged the reality of what has taken place.” The “feelings” that are now spontaneously expressed should be used and formed into a profound and extensive “political transformation”.
Also commenting on this spontaneous process that is also now leading to political awareness, columnist Hazem Saghieh, in a fairly controversial editorial for Al Hayat, refutes the “accusations of treason” that some Arabs, and especially Syria, are directing at the Lebanese now that they want to get rid of Syria: “There is now a familiar way in which to describe the Lebanese who want to have a sovereign state and an independent nation, just like the rest of the world’s countries. . They have become traitors and agents, enemies of Arab nationalism and advocates of colonialism.” To these comments the columnist replies: “Is it possible for any rational person to refuse the acquisition of independence, freedom, progress, regional communication and openness to the world, just in order to strengthen his relationship to a "brotherly" regime whose only promise is a fight, who only brings about catastrophes and tragedies to one side while the other avoids it?” .
For him these new feelings, this new will for freedom and independence, should not therefore be seen with surprise but as a natural choice.
Gibran Tawini recalls that with the assassination of Al-Hariri in Al Nahar on the 17th of February, someone tried to assassinate “the stability, freedom and sovereignity and independance of Lebanon”, like the other martyrs before him “Marwan Hamade, Bechir Gemayel, Kamal Jumblatt or mufty Hassan Khaled” . This time though, for Hariri, the people has raised its voice louder and louder against “dictatorship and foreign occupation” and for “one Lebanon, united, free and independent”. Later in the week, An-Nahar considered that the 28th of February was as an historical date for Lebanon, not only for the dissolution of the government announced by President Karame but also for the unprecedented demonstrations that have pacifically brought together thousands of demonstrators with opposition forces and that have been the main factor in the government’s dissolution.”
This new political force that comes from the streets has given Lebanese members of parliament the strength to express themselves with violence and to take an unusual decision, another first for the Lebanese Parliament. If half of the pressure came from the streets, the other half came from “”MP’s, including Bahiya Hariri the sister of the late leader who asked Parliament “to follow the will of the people and send home an incapable and failed government ”.
Another crucial factor in the awakening of public opinion has been the exemplary behaviour of the army and police forces, who have left demonstrators express themselves in total freedom. An Nahar has highlighted this “singular indulgence of the armed forces” while the Daily Star uses the word "revolution" and feels that “Electricity is in the air”, describing the Lebanese capital as “a sea of excitement, activity and turmoil” also stressing the responsible behaviour of both sides: “What contributed to the historical nature of yesterday's events was the fact that protesters were perfectly behaved. In response the army gratefully behaved in the same manner - a wise policy that has undoubtedly helped to preserve national stability and has given Lebanese youth, who have risked so much, a taste of political responsibility.”