Monday, March 14, 2005

Lebanon -- wow!

Depending on who you want to believe, somewhere between 800,000 and 1,300,000 people descended on Beirut today in the largest protest in the history of Lebanon. This anti-Syrian show of force was a direct counterpoint to the orchestrated pro-Syrian demonstrations late last week. The news (excellent round-up in near real-time at Publius Pundit) continues to pour in, and it's nearly all good. Lebanon looks to be going the route of the Ukraine — it's starting to look very likely that the forces of good will triumph, and in short order.

Who would ever have imagined this, even just a couple of months ago? Feels a bit like those giddy days 15 years ago when the Soviet Union was crumbling...

From Naharnet (Lebanese news):

Lebanon's opposition staged the biggest show of force in the nation's modern history from slain ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's graveside Monday, taking a thunderous oath to break Syria's ruthless stranglehold and tear apart President Lahoud's police state of "secret service phantoms."Between 1.5 and 2 million opposition activists converged on Beirut's downtown Martyrs Square and surrounding neighborhoods to mark the lapse of one month on Hariri's assassination. They shouted slogans demanding the resignation of all security commanders in Lebanon because of dereliction of duty in stopping the assassination.

The demonstration was so huge that Syria's loyalists led bySayyed Hassan Nasrallah's Hizbullah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal movement, who pose as standard-bearers of the Shiite community were dwarfed into an overwhelmed minority.

What made the trick was the massive turnout of the Sunni sect onto the streets of the capital to defy Syria's tutelage. Crowds from densely-populated Sunni neighborhoods stood shoulder-to-shoulder with opposition activists from various Christian communities and Walid Jumblat's Druze sect, chanting "we want the truth, we want sovereignty, we want Syria out." The Sunnis make up the biggest bloc among Lebanon's eligible voters.

One poster brandished among an ocean of Lebanese flags read "long live Syria inside Syria." Another poster read "President Lahoud, rest assured your turn is coming," a reference that he might be overthrown over Hariri's assassination.

Legislator Marwan Hamadeh, who survived an assassination attempt in October, formally opened the sit-in protest by declaring that the massive opposition was "writing the end of President Lahoud's police state and its Syrian backers." He drew thunderous cheers when he announced "this is the end to the one whose regime has been extended and to those who extended his regime." Hamadeh, a former minister under Hariri's premiership, said "the days of the secret service, the days of the ghosts are numbered."

Bahia Hariri, the ex-Premier's sister who is a member of parliament, stole the hearts of the Lebanese when she took the makeshift podium to address her slain brother at his nearby grave in the courtyard of Al-Amin's mosque.

"You have accomplished Lebanon's long-elusive miracle, the miracle of national unity, the miracle of Christian-Muslim unity that has been baptized by your blood," Bahia Hariri said.

She then raised her right arm and urged the crowds to do the same, vowing "we pledge to be loyal to Lebanon, your Lebanon which you rebuild from the rubble of civil warfare. We pledge to you that Lebanon would never be torn by civil warfare again under any circumstance," she said.

Another touching expression of post-Hariri's national unity came in an address to the crowds by Joe Sarkis, the representative of Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces.

"I want to convey to you Geagea's tribute from eleven years behind prison bars to the national unity welded together by the last tragic thirty days of Rafik Hariri's assassination," Sarkis said.

Another moving address was delivered to the crowds by An Nahar's General Manager Gebran Tueni who declared "you are the biggest party in Lebanon. You are the party of Lebanon." He left the impression that the opposition Party of Lebanon was bigger than the Party of God.

Hundreds of thousands trekked overland and by sea in bus and motorboat convoys to fill the sprawling Martyrs Square and the nearby Riad Solh Square to the brim. Thousands upon thousands assembled at rooftops and nearby highway passes in what old-timers said was the biggest demonstration since Lebanon's 1943 independence.

There were outspoken charges before the demonstration leveled by opposition leaders, accusing the Lahoud regime of standing behind the assassination.

"The secret services have become a death machine, a death mill toiling without letup," had said Hariri's parliament bloc member Walid Ido.

Ido spoke on Hariri's Future-TV network screen a few hours after ex-Defense Minister Mohsen Dalloul directly accused the Lahoud regime of involvement in Hariri's assassination, revealing that a police unit assigned to protect the ex-premier was withdrawn a few days before the crime.

"Hariri had worked out an agreement with President Lahoud to have the police unit assigned to protect and escort him as a former prime minister. The force was actually put on the job and it functioned from Hariri's Koreitem mansion," Dalloul said in an interview aired by the F-TV Sunday night.

"When Hariri's aides managed to reach the official responsible for the protection unit, he said Hariri has plenty of money and he can hire his own security apparatus," said Dalloul, a parliament member who served as defense minister in one of Hariri's governments.

"The crime took place a few days later and now officials are boasting that 'the crime is behind us,' which means they have committed the crime," Dalloul added.

P.S. The girl at right really is a Lebanese demonstrator from today's demonstration. She and many other Lebanese beauties have been prominently featured in many of the photographs accompanying the news stories of events today. I predict tourism to Lebanon is about to pick up sharply, dominated by twenty-something men. And just in case you don't know: that red, white, and green pattern so attractively displayed upon that young woman's person is the flag of Lebanon.

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