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The prospects for the Intifada that changed the Lebanon

In 14 February 2005 the Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, was assassinated in the centre of Beirut together with seventeen other people. He was a Sunnite Muslim. A few weeks previously Marwan Hamade, the Druse minister, had escaped an assassination attempt. Two days after this assassination the daily demonstrations against Syria and the Lebanese government they were accused of having organised the action began. An opposition was organised which united Christians, Druses and Sunnites. Only two Shiite parties (including the Hezbollah) remained loyal to Syria and this was for a very simple reason: Syria is their principal support.


A peaceful revolution then began, the 'Liberation Intifada', to obtain the definitive withdrawal of Syria (the army and the secret services) in line with resolution 1559 of the United Nations (2 September 2004). Every day thousands of people, each one with a Lebanese flag lacking in any political symbol, people who were members of many parties and communities, went to the Square of Martyrs in the centre of Beirut in order to assemble around the tomb of Hariri and to express their joy and their patriotism with songs in praise of the Lebanon and their homeland.



On 14 March almost a million people met in the square. This movement of the people, supported by international pressure (above all France and the United States of America), was so strong that Syria ended up by giving way. Syria promised to withdraw and indeed withdrew in two months after thirty years of her 'friendly' presence.


This movement set in motion a landslide of consequences resignations of the government (28 February and 14 April), the progressive and final withdrawal of Syria which came to an end on 26 April, the creation of a provisional limited government (19 April) with the aim of organising free elections in the whole of the country and thus the calling of a parliament, the return of General Michel Aoun on 7 May after fifteen years of exile, the holding of elections over a period of three weeks (from Sunday 29 May to Sunday 19 June) to elect 128 deputies (sixty-four Christians and sixty-four Muslims, including Druses), the creation of a new government, and a vote of confidence in the government etc.


I would now like to summarise some lessons that can be drawn from this experience and I will do so under a number of headings.



Rising above Parties



During the weeks from the middle of February to the end of April the people of the Lebanon were rather like they had been before the war of 1975. For the first time in thirty years in the country the confessional divisions seemed to have disappeared. The revolution began with the Christians loyal to the Patriarch of the Maronites, Nasrallah Sfeir, a figure who for years had never ceased to repeat the need to apply the Ta'if agreements which provided for the withdrawal of the Syrians. The Christians were joined by the Druses in the person of Walid Jumblat and finally by the Sunnites after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. Some Shiites also joined the movement although the two major Shiite parties (Hezbollah and Amal) refused to adhere.



This union was expressed first of all at Hariri's tomb. Everybody went to pray there according to their own tradition, reciting prayers together. Christians made the sign of the cross and Muslims passed their hands over their faces; some placed candles or rosaries, others, Muslim rosaries; and yet others held a cross in their hands and the Koran in the other, and at times they also wore the headgear typical of the Druses. The Hariri family distributed a copy of the Koran to everyone. Thousands of people filed past in front of the tomb of the Prime Minister amidst music and song, signing petitions and enjoying themselves in an atmosphere of joy and great brotherhood.


This 'revolution' was in large measure the work of the young people of the country, who were led by wise leaders with clear ideas. It never at any moment flowed over into violence. The army, which guaranteed public order, in essential terms sympathised with the demonstrators and did not resort to force. Everyone greeted everyone else on the streets and exchanged jokes with the soldiers.



The pro-Syrian government did not enjoy the support of the population and attempted some forms of compromise on matters of secondary importance. But the opposition kept its demands unchanged without lowering its price and the people rejected the government, which, indeed, in the end was forced to resign. This was a great victory for the opposition and even more so for the Lebanese nation. This victory was the outcome of a national movement, of a movement of rediscovered national identity. At that time thousands of Lebanese flags flew everywhere and at all times, on buses as on cars, in public places as in private homes.



The revolution, more than being an anti-Syrian movement (it is said that in the Lebanon there are almost a million Syrian workers in a country of only three and a half million inhabitants), was largely an affirmation of a Lebanese identity that had been rediscovered. Although it is the case that during the first days of the Intifada some Syrians were attacked, these instances were certainly a painful exception. Almost always in conversations people made a distinction between the Syrian people, who were innocent, and their leaders, who were responsible for the occupation. It cannot be excluded that in the near future Lebanese and Syrians will work together on commercial and industrial projects.



National Dialogue and Confessional Loyalties



It might have been feared that the Lebanon could have split in two pro-Syrian Shiites against the anti-Syrian opposition. Fortunately, the victorious opposition understood that it had to play the card of national unity and to enter into dialogue with everyone in order to solve the problems of the Lebanon together. Is it normal for each group to rely upon a foreign power the Christians on France or the West, the Sunnites on Saudi Arabia, the Shiites on Iran, and the Druses on the strongest power of the moment? Once the Syrians had left it was necessary to draw up lists for elections which were to be held according to a system that had been drawn up in Syria in 2000 and which disadvantaged the smallest groups.



It was thus necessary to create alliances amongst all the groupings. Thus in the four major electoral areas (Beirut, the South, the mountain region and the Beqa'a, and the North) lists were drawn up that brought together all the confessions Sunnites, Shiites, Druses and Christians.



The return of General Aoun, who had been in exile in France because of his vigorous opposition to the presence of the Syrians, somewhat 'disturbed' this system. His movement had a large number of followers, above all amongst young people. At the moment of the parliamentary elections he did not make an agreement with the other opposition groups but created his own one. Despite the vehement attacks by his opponents, he obtained a success that was quite substantial and to a certain extent that was also unexpected. Some Lebanese, above all intellectuals, criticised this political decision, seeing in it a return of confessional loyalties (the ta'ifiyya), given that many of the people that voted for this list were Christians.



This phenomenon seems to me to be understandable, if not indeed inevitable and perhaps necessary. After the end of the war the Christians did not have any leaders: Aoun was in exile, Samir Geagea was in prison, and the other traditional leaders had disappeared. The Sunnites, Shiites and Druses had always kept their traditional leaders. Some Christians felt the need to find a leader and for many of them General Aoun performed this role. In addition, it was not possible to overcome confessional loyalties unless all the confessions came to an agreement at one and the same time. Specifically because of the presence of traditional leaders in the case of all the groups with the exception of the Christians, these last reacted along confessional lines, although they declared that they wanted to go beyond this approach. The abandonment of confessional loyalties must be achieved but it requires a common desire to change the character of mutual relations at all levels and not just at the top.



However it is probable that this revolution would not have succeeded had it not been for the international pressures of the time (in particular those of the United States of America and France) that were applied to Syria. Indeed, what can a country such as the Lebanon do against Syria?



The West should now shoulder its responsibilities as regards the enforcement of world justice and peace. But another point should be made in this instance resort was not made to military force but to diplomatic pressure. And this is an essential point the powers must perform their role in the keeping of the peace but even more so they should do so with peaceful means (diplomatic and economic pressure). This is exactly what did not happen in Iraq and what without any doubt explains why the situation still needs a long period of time before it can become stabilised. The West cannot be 'neutral' in the passive sense of the term and allow forms of international injustice to continue. But at the same time it cannot be aggressive to the point of creating new forms of injustice.



In the final analysis, the example of the Lebanon has demonstrated the efficacy of cooperation between the United States of America and Europe. In my opinion, peace in the Middle East should not depend totally on the political decisions of the USA. The Arab world has greater trust in Europe, which is nearer and more conciliatory.



The Independence and Autonomy of the Lebanon



The Lebanon has still not in any absolute sense recovered her autonomy. Until Syria exchanges ambassadors with the Lebanon real recognition will not exist because as was the case sixty years ago Syria will go on seeing the Lebanon as a part of Greater Syria. In order to underline that the two countries in reality constitute one country the telephone system of the two countries was unified about twelve years ago since that time one can telephone from Syria to the Lebanon and vice versa without the dialling international prefix.



But how can one require Syria to recognise its international frontiers with the Lebanon (frontiers imposed by the mandate power) if one does not require Israel to recognise its international frontiers with Palestine, frontiers that were established in 1949 and which have never been changed? For every person who wants to be fair there is in this a flagrant injustice. For how long will Israel occupy large parts of Palestine and Syria and some Lebanese villages? For how long will the great powers (and in particular the United States of America) support this injustice? And how can the Arab countries in particular believe in justice and democracy when they observe the silence of the West?



The demand made by the Lebanese people that the Syrians should leave, which was supported by the United Nations and the major Western powers, necessarily leads to the question of the attitude adopted by Israel which occupies Palestine (and also Syria) in a way that is much more violent than was the case with Syria in the Lebanon.



Peace is necessarily obtained through respect for internationally recognised frontiers and for international law and decisions. As long as only one country (Syria, Israel or Iraq) does not in a definitive way abandon the occupation of only one square metre of the territory of its neighbouring country there will be neither peace nor non-violence!



Those who want peace must also want and love legality. This is because illegality can never produce peace: it only produces a desire for vendetta. Learning legality is the first step towards democracy and our Arab world needs to make a great effort to reach two objectives: a sense of law being above everything else and everyone and a sense of democracy.


The West in large measure is the model for these two areas but this image is increasingly becoming obscured: corruption, favouritism and the propensity to dominate others are widespread. The attempt by the United States of America to 'teach good' and to be the 'policeman of the world', at the same time not respecting its own international commitments and refusing to submit to international agreements, has often made this model a negative one. The image that the mass media present is that of a strong and powerful West, but also a West that is not very moral, and this runs the risk of strengthening the idea that if you want success great ethical principles have to become an abstraction.



The Lebanon could be a model for the development of our region. Its political system, which is based upon a religious equilibrium which so far has protected it from the religious extremism that is tending to invade the whole of the Arab world; its economic liberalism, which has ensured that it has a certain prosperity; its level of university education, which has always ensured that the country has the capacity to generate a critical spirit at all levels these are all undeniable aces that it carries in its sleeve. But there is another side to the coin: the system of widespread clientelism easily opens the door to corruption and favouritism and at times appears to be similar to feudalism. The religious equilibrium can easily lead to an exacerbated system of confessional loyalties and generate 'religious' monopolies in business and politics.



Extreme liberalism will reinforce forms of social injustice if it is not counterweighted by social laws that defend the weakest categories, without, however, falling into a welfare dependency system as is often the case in Europe. There are many deviations which have to be corrected and here one cannot blame 'foreign intervention'. Nonetheless, ever since its conception, which was practically unique in the Middle East, the Lebanon has been a model for the region, if only because it is an Arab country, with a culture that is very much influenced by Europe and America, a country that is neither Muslim nor Christian (even though the President of the Republic according to the Constitution has to be a Christian) but at the same time a country that is not secular, a country that offers great space to religion and officially recognises eighteen different communities, all of which are represented in parliament. The Lebanese exception could really serve as a model to be followed if it were to free itself of its detritus.