Independence 2011?


It is often said in Lebanon that the Arab Spring wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the Cedar Spring. And while that statement does certainly have a valid context to it, recent events in the region have proven that while many of the Arab nations were taking to the streets to demand their rights, often at a very high cost, the Lebanese have been in a state of deep political stagnation unable to even form a single stance as a nation on the surrounding events.

The Cedar Spring (or Independence Intifada as it’s commonly referred to) that erupted after the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafic Hariri on February 14, 2005 was initially largely a spontaneous movement by Lebanese activists, mainly youths, who felt disenfranchised from what was then a Syrian intelligence dominated political life. These activists rapidly grew in numbers and were joined by Lebanese from all walks of life. Tens of thousands of people gathered daily at Martyr’s square in the heart of downtown Beirut and demanded the resignation of the then pro-Syrian PM Omar Karami, the establishment of a UN led investigation team into the assassination of Hariri, and bravely so, the withdrawal of Syria’s 15,000 troops from the country. The movement culminated on March 14, 2005, after having toppled the government and in what was deemed to be a massive public response to a rally held by Hezbollah a week earlier which had thanked Syria’s role in stopping Lebanon’s civil war and its support for the resistance.

The Cedar Revolution, now in full swing, was able to attract millions by most estimates to the heart of Beirut, in what seemed like Lebanon’s moment of resurgence back on the international and regional scene. The sight of hordes of Lebanese from all sects, ideologies, social backgrounds and affiliations gathering in unison and determination was no mean feat at all, many had written off the Lebanese people’s ability for change decades earlier. The bloody long Lebanese civil war and the resulting de facto Syrian control over all aspects of Lebanese everyday life meant that politics in the country were governed by certain limitations set by the international and regional situations, and the Lebanese had to accept them by force.

But the revolution did achieve many of the goals it set out; in fact some might argue that it had achieved them all. In reality, the Cedar Spring was an umbrella movement of a wide array of people and thoughts whose common goal was to see a free and prosperous Lebanon, in other words, the continuation of the process that Rafic Hariri had so passionately fought for, the return of Lebanon to the regional and international scene as a strong independent player.

However soon after that the July 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel broke out, and the Lebanese awoke to the realization that they cannot possibly have a free and fair nation while there are armed groups outside the reach of the state and law, controlling large parts of the country and deciding upon themselves without consulting the other Lebanese when the nation should go to war. These militias that grew out of a certain culture that had existed in Lebanon for centuries, and that is the right for self defense, were fostered, supplied and financed by the Iranians and their allies the Syrians.

After the 1990 Taif accord, all militias on Lebanese soil were required to hand over their weapons to the state and completely disarm. Most of the militias did so apart from some Palestinians and Hezbollah, the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon always being their raison d’être. And while for some parts of the 90s many Lebanese politicians and activists were bold enough to speak out against the unlawful Syrian occupation of the country, none of them realized the dangers brewing on the back of the marginalization of the Lebanese Shia community that had existed for decades.

Indeed many might argue that the Lebanese civil war was in some senses the cathartic yet unfortunate experience that the country needed to rid itself from its past and start building a new future from fresh, the reality was that some of the remnants of the negativities of pre-Taif Lebanon were imported into post-Taif Lebanon. And in that context there isn’t a situation in Lebanon where these negativities were as prevalent as they were among the Lebanese Shia, especially those living in the south. Yet that wasn’t exactly a situation that the government were able to do much about, in most cases any credible plans to invest in the south were scrapped instantly by the Syrian apparatus under various pretenses.

And thus Hezbolla grew, partly out of local Shia sentiment for need of a solid representation in a Lebanese system that seemed to have favored all sects along the years but them, though mostly because the Syrians had destroyed any non-Hezbollah initiative to give the people of the south any hope. They did so first by getting rid of any resistance that had operated outside of the context of the Shia group through a stream of high and low level assassinations, then secondly and most importantly by forcing the successive Lebanese governments to abandon any plans they might have had for the south. This status quo made fertile grounds for the Islamists to come in and fill the wide gaps that the system has generated. Billions of dollars from Iran via Syria annually gave the Shia militia resources to build schools, hospitals, roads, houses, extensive communication infrastructure and most importantly a strong solid army. These were the main components of the de facto state that Hezbolla would so meticulously govern. The schools now a tool to spread Shia dogmas and incitement, while the hospitals were always well equipped for times of war. Their “mini state” was ready for both war and peace, and as recent security events and a certain TIME magazine interview in Beirut’s southern suburb have shown us, the Lebanese security forces can only operate at the mercy of the militia, their moves dictated by the men in yellow.

The Lebanese are therefore now faced with an agonizing reality, their nation is held hostage by Hezbolla’s mini state. Hezbolla continue to threaten the Lebanese freedoms that have made the country what it is today. Only a couple of months back Hezbolla’s men closed down several liquor stores in the south causing local outrage from residents. This is only the beginning, Hezbolla as a party was formed in 1984 primarily to export the Islamic revolution of Iran to Lebanon. Here is a snippet from their initial manifesto:

“…We call upon all of them to pick the option of Islamic government which, alone, is capable of guaranteeing justice and liberty for all. Only an Islamic regime can stop any further tentative attempts of imperialistic infiltration into our country”

What is therefore facing Lebanon is a possible religious tyranny on a level unprecedented in the region, perhaps the closest model would be the Hamas rule in Gaza. All dictatorships are freedom quelling and oppressive, but the ones based on religious and strong ideological motives are always on a much more aggressive level.

The Arab Spring has shown us the levels people are willing to go to in order to gain freedoms and have a say in their countries future and resources. People across the region have revolted vehemently in the face of decades long dictatorships and many of them have managed to bring these tyrants to their knees. Lebanon’s sectarian ‘consensus democracy’ is both a blessing and a curse. While the system does to a certain extent give the people capacity for constant change, the realities often force themselves on the Lebanese and the political scene is therefore in constant stagnation. Even when the Lebanese revolted and brought about the historic changes of the Cedar Revolution, subsequently bringing into power political figures that have been marginalized for centuries through imprisonments and exile, the scene did not change drastically. The new majority, March 14 alliance, was afraid to take on Hezbollah head on and they took the country into years of compromise which only really benefited the Shia Islamists and their allies. It began on March 14, 2005 when calls from the public to march to presidential palace and demand president Lahoud’s immediate resignation were met with calls for calm and the need for patience from the alliance.

It’s still not too late for March 14 to correct their wrong doings and put a fierce challenge to Hezbollah, but they must abandon their fear element. Saad Harriri, the opposition leader, as charismatic and passionate about the cause as he is, constantly refuses to up the ante on the scene fearing a return to the violence of the 70s. His fears are in their place, Hezbollah terrorized the streets of Beirut on that fateful May in 2007, killing and injuring tens, but more importantly stamping their authority on the state and eventually forcing Jumblatt to change sides thus completely shifting the whole political equation.

The Lebanese however must no longer count on March 14, or anyone else for that matter, to secure their future. In Syria, millions of people took to the streets and faced the killing machine of Bashar Al Assad with their lives. They took on the Assad tanks and soldiers armed but with a strong determination and a common goal, to see a free and fair Syria. The road is still long for the Syrians, but their gains are irreversible, the momentum is with them, and it seems they are on their way to victory. Other Arab nations have already paved the way, giving more steam to the Syrian revolution.

Just as in 2005 when the Lebanese felt a sudden responsibility towards their country and their children’s future, the current situation demands an even stronger stance from them. The picture is now a tenfold clearer, the Hezbollah machine is on the rise, and very soon it will become another dictatorship in the region. Their current puppet government has the capacity to destroy all the historic achievements of the spring of 2005, and then go on to destroy what the Lebanese have worked so hard to obtain, international justice.

But the Lebanese now have a golden opportunity to face the growing beast before it’s too late, it’s their responsibility as citizens to face up to this and restore the freedoms that have defined Lebanon and made it the nation that others around the region always aspired to be. It is true that the Cedar Spring inspired the Arab Spring, but it is also true that if the Lebanese don’t rise up to the dire challenges facing their country then that Spring will all but be erased from modern Lebanese history. The Lebanese must abandon their sectarianism, their tribal tendencies and unite to save their nation.

René Moawad said it best before he was assassinated: “There can be no country or dignity without unity of the people, and there can be no unity without agreement, and there can be no agreement without conciliation, and there can be no conciliation without forgiveness and compromise.”

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