Beyond Doha: Making the Cedar Revolution’s Non-violence Prevail over Hizbullah’s Coup d’Etat


Nothing less than a titanic clash between two logics is at play in Beirut, and in the larger Middle East. When the Cedar Revolution rose against the order imposed by Syria in 2005 after the assassination of our former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, its main characteristic was non-violence. A unique event was at hand, with a potential for the world that had no precedent since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Cedar Revolution failed to translate its immense street success into political leadership. When Hizbullah initiated a catastrophic war against Israel, on 12 July 2006, the Counter-Revolution was on the march, with violence as its guide. The diplomatic incompetence of the Israeli and American governments, which prolonged the war for a month, did not help. As a frail ceasefire was established in August, the Coup d’Etat initiated by Hizbullah by starting the war against the overwhelming wishes of the Lebanese developed inwards.

Contrary to widely trumpeted pretenses, Hizbullah’s use of force against fellow Lebanese proved a live option. In December 2006, the military wing of the Shi’i party and its allies invested the centre of Beirut, preventing by force Lebanese citizens from getting to their jobs, and ruining the livelihood of hundreds of persons. They never left. In early 2007, they tried to develop their hold on Beirut. On the morning of 23 January, Lebanese citizens were prevented from reaching their workplace and schools by roadblocks. Near the Nahar building in downtown Beirut, I saw Hizbullah militants stopping and vandalizing the car of a Lebanese journalist who wanted to get through to her place of work. That day also, they closed the airport by force, and only frenzied negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Iran led the Iranian leadership to pull them back. The logic of force continued. Hizbullah remained entrenched in the heart of Beirut, continued receiving weapons and money from Syria and Iran, and refused any participation in the government. Again, contrary to their claims of being marginalized, ministers from Hizbullah and their allies had been included in the government since 2005. But they wanted their agenda to dominate. They rejected all calls to lay down their arms and submit to Lebanese law, and openly fought the international tribunal which is tasked to try those suspected of having killed Hariri, ministers, MPs, and dozens of innocent bystanders. Hizbullah and its allies, notably former General Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri, did not hesitate a second from supporting open violence. This culminated last week. To oppose the decision of the government in removing their man in the airport, they launched a full military attack and seized West Beirut. At least eighty people have been killed since.

Several factors led to the collapse of West Beirut to Hizbullah’s brute force last week. In part Hizbullah’s firepower could not be matched, but also the army, let by Michel Sleiman, and security forces, let by Ashraf Rifi, did not rise to the people’s expectations: it is one thing for law and order forces to stand above factionalism, another to abdicate their essential role in protecting the lives and property of innocent citizens. A third factor is to the credit of the Cedar Revolution’s two leaders, Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt: the continuation of its logic of non-violence. They asked their followers not to resist. This did not prevent a violent reaction in Jumblatt’s Shuf region, which Hizbullah tried to occupy. Over ten Hizbullah fighters were killed by the Druze in the mountain on May 11, while the Shi’i party reacted with the use of heavy artillery sowing devastation in listless villages. Meanwhile, other cities in Lebanon, with a predominantly non-Shi’i population, saw similarly violent exactions. In one instance, a bus of innocent Syrian guest workers was targeted.

The choice of non-violence has receded, but at least the effort of the Cedar Revolution’s heirs is real and sustained. They should be given credit for that. We, that is we Lebanese democrats who believe in the Cedar Revolution’s non-violent message, can still win. Hizbullah’s domination is unacceptable. Nor is it sustainable in a country of different religions and sects, but the continuous retreat of my colleagues in the leadership of the Cedar Revolution was not warranted. They have failed time and again since September 2004 from transforming a moment of courage into success.

We can keep to the logic of non-violence, but it needs teeth, and these teeth are constitutional. The ‘dialogue’, in Doha or otherwise, will go nowhere so long as it equates aggressor and aggressed. But we also need a firmer position from the government, and the revival of Parliament as the only constitutional place for the dialogue, debate and disagreement amongst the Lebanese factions. Parliament has failed to convene for some three years because of the Parliamentary Speaker, Nabih Berri, who is a sad remnant of the previous order. He simply shut it down. This is not irreversible, but it requires courage on behalf of the Cedar Revolution MPs. They must meet, — under international protection if necessary, and this is where the role of world democracies is essential –, to confirm that the logic of non-violence is not without teeth and effectiveness, and that it translates with democracy against the brute logic of Hizbullah’s brutal occupation of Beirut.

Chibli Mallat has campaigned for the Lebanese presidency, and is the author of 2221- Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, a message of non-violence and justice, Beirut 2007

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