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A Man, His Nation and Its Revolution

Saturday 14 February 2015

It’s a quiet and sombre school day. The sun is shining bright but I still remember a distinct form of melancholy engulfing folks at school that day. Everyone was still in shock, the events of the past month were something of a blur. Mr Abboud is trying hard to get us to concentrate on his calculus class, we are only months away from what is supposed to be the biggest moment of our academic lives so far, Baccalaureate test day. But something just doesn’t add up, we shouldn’t be in class, we should be out there, on the streets.

A few hours pass by like this, teacher after teacher attempt in vein to rig our interest, but we’re stumped. Suddenly the principle knocks the door and asks for me. This cannot be good news I say to myself, why today of all days. Just as I am about to confess to breaking one of the chemistry lab’s expensive beakers, he interjects: “they’re waiting for you, get ready”.

I’m not sure what to expect at this point but I make my way downstairs only to find my mum and sister already in revolution mode. The car has also joined the rebellion, flags have been attached throughout, and in the centre of the hood stood a picture of the man whose assassination one month to this day ignited our ‘Intifada’. I’m overcome with joy, I was about to take part in the revolution that up to this moment was nothing but a series of invigorating images on TV that felt a world away.

Such was the obscurity of the events of the spring of 2005, it took the Lebanese populace at large a good month to properly digest the looming winds of change and react. The atmosphere was anticipatory yet the mood was bleak.

“C’mon, let’s go rally the troops!” my mum excitingly tells us in reference to a wider group of friends all yearning to ride the tides of mutiny. My old man had already made his way down to rebellion ground zero, Martyr’s Square, with his assemblage of academics and civil society activists. Most people we knew were riding the revolution tides too. School was a distant memory as we arrive at our meeting point and began our movement southwards.

In the car we’re listening to the news. The commentator is enthused as he breaks the news, the security cordon imposed by the security forces on Martyr’s Square had now been broken, peacefully. The masses were bringing the country’s road infrastructure to a screeching halt. The Lebanese had decided that enough was enough and the brutal assassination of the man that was single handily responsible for commanding and invigorating the painstaking reconstruction of a war torn nation was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The status quo imposed by the Syrian intelligence apparatus had to be broken, and so they took to the streets in a moment of time that is unlikely to occur again.

This culminated a period of intense animosity and abuse by the Syrian affiliated groups in Lebanon towards Rafic Hariri and his group. It was clear to any observer during that period that the Syrians and their internal allies had already made up their mind, they could no longer tolerate Hariri’s silent rebellion. He had become too much of a nuisance, and his ever strengthening bonds with Walid Jumblatt, coupled with his indirect Christian entente through the ‘Bristol Gathering’ and ‘Qornet Shehwan’, meant he had crossed that red line that nearly always has fatal outcomes in the land of the cedars, genuine cross-sectarian public support.

Back in Beirut we are battling a static standstill sea of cars. Many have abandoned their cars and decided to continue the journey on foot. We follow suit and make our way to the square among the masses. All throughout I’m seeing faces I strangely recognize, young and old. I have not met these people, but everyone seemed familiar. Party flags we’ve long been programmed to equate with brutality and treason are ubiquitous as they fuse seamlessly with the melange of red, white and green.

But none of these people looked like savages to me, and they certainly didn’t give away treacherous vibes, in fact they seemed to love their country every bit as I did. It was dawning on me that this tiny fragmented nation shared much more than I’d ever imagined. Maybe it was this very challenging notion that made this such a special moment, the first time since the end of the civil war that the Lebanese of all creeds and affiliations had a chance to get together and unite for a common cause. The Syrians had to leave, justice had to be served and the institutions had to be reclaimed.

Ten years on and Lebanon teeters on the brink of potential failure, Hariri’s worst nightmares are close. The objectives of his assassination couldn’t have been clearer than they are now. The institutions are undermined in part and overrun in other by the omnipresent Iranian funded militia that is Hezbollah and their allies. It is very evident that it was a long term strategic and quite successful bid from a rising regional power, Iran, to control yet another country in an ever changing Middle East.

As dangers lurk around the corner, with a violent Islamist tide threatening everything in its path, Hariri’s religious moderation is gravely needed. And while regional powers crumble and vulnerably sway, Lebanon might have miraculously weathered the worst of it so far. But as the nation over flood with nearly 2 million refugees of various nationalities, how long will this last for?

The sponge effect Hariri had on the scene is painfully clear. His ability of absorbing most of Lebanon’s problems and shielding a fragile recovering country was a blessing very few appreciated. Hariri’s long term strategic economic thinking has created a cushion that continues to protect Lebanon from the inevitable to this day. It may not have seemed like it at the time, but the calculated move into neoliberal economic policies have indeed proved its worth.

A decade on from that fateful event and the subsequent Cedar Revolution much has changed, for better or for worse. One thing remains though, and that is that the key to Lebanon’s longevity and full return to statehood continues to be gravely embedded in the notion of the rise of strong state institutions, ideals held by the silent majority of the populace. This was what Hariri understood all too well and this what he sacrificed his life for. But at this critical stage in Lebanon and the region’s history, are the Lebanese going to rise up to the challenge and reclaim their state while continuing to fight for justice through the STL, Lebanon’s ultimate path to true catharsis?

Back in Martyr’s Square, as the day progresses, speeches are given, chants sung, prayers held and the Lebanese have made history. The clock hits 12.55 and the millions fall silent humbly observing a minute silence, the moment the inconceivable has happened one month ago. Within 24 hours the Syrians would withdraw from the capital paving the road for their complete retreat from Lebanon. Soon after a special tribunal would be set up to serve justice.

That same drive and determination are required now more than ever as we attempt to preserve a man’s shining legacy and continue a nation’s ascent into prosperity and growth. It’s the only way.

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