Lebanese security forces has a very neat trick to stop protesters and their marches. They create a ragtag group and give them a pompous name, then incite them to mount an anti-manifestation at the same place and same time of the opposition’s own march. The result is always the same – until this time- The government bans both demonstration out of fear of renewed “blood shed and sectarian tension.”
On Sunday night after the Interior Security Minister banned both demonstrations, tension skyrocketed. The army and police forces were deployed in force. Confrontation seemed imminent.
No one imagined what happened next. From the moment of the ban’s announcement, young Lebanese from all wake of life started arriving to the surrounding of Martyr’s square, where the peaceful sit-in was planned next morning –Monday- to accompany the Parliament discussion session.
I was stunned. Most of the TV networks ran live coverage from Martyrs square. Night had fallen; the army forces surrounded the square. The throng amassed outside the army cordons. A fight seemed unavoidable my heart thudded.
Miracle! Young Lebanese just stepped in front of the Lebanese soldiers, they smiled to each other and the protestors went thru! Miracle! The numbers multiplied. No roadblocks or fears stopped these patriots.
By midnight thousands were in the square. Weaving Lebanese flags, and only Lebanese flags! Chanting all as one “Syria out, Syria out” The dream was coming true.
Next morning I woke up early – I live in Saida 40 KM south of Beirut- I wanted nothing but to join my co-citizens who were freeing my country. The roads were closed. Army roadblocks everywhere. Yet I drove. I choose “less traveled roads” The lines of cars stretched miles, the wait was agonizing. But here also the army, our army, looked away. Helped us, and let us pass. Slowly at first, but pass I did.
An hour and half later –the trip takes usually half an hour- I was in Beirut. My blood sang with the chants. I parked my car on the highway close to Martyr’s square and I ran to join the Lebanese people in the Independence March. The sight was riveting. A sea of red and white, with flicker of green filled the square.
The army was still surrounding the square. But here too they looked away. No, here too they helped us! Showing us where to go and how to break the cordon. The army, our army, the soldiers were fantastic. It was happening unity encompassed all Lebanese. Christians, Muslims, civilians, military all were drawn together to grab their freedom, their independence.
The square throbbed with the rhythm of the MPs’ speeches, broadcasted live from the parliament. With each speech, pressure mounted.
Then the session was adjourned at two in the afternoon, till six and half o’clock. Eighty MPs asked for a turn to speak. The session could take several days. Yet everybody at the square was eager to stay, no matter how long it will take.
Six thirty. The session was declared open. An MP was supposed to make his speech. The prime minister rose, out of turn and started to speak. “ Because I was moved by Hariri’s sister speech – Bahia Hariri is Rafic Hariri sister’s and an MP- which asked for the resignation of my cabinet…, therefore …” The square fell silent, “ … I offer my resignation.”
And the square exploded with joy!
All that night the street of Beirut was jubilant. Convoy of cars branding Lebanese flags filled the streets. People danced in the streets. It was magnificent! For the first time in Lebanon. For the first time in whole Arab world, a government resigns under the street’s pressure. Freedom. What a sweet taste it has, when it’s hard won. Freedom…
Late that night when the haze of victory lifted, the long path ahead daunted me. This victory was only a small step on a long and treacherous road. But I believe that those proud, brave Lebanese patriots who stood firm, with an unbelievable sense of responsibility and restraint – For over three weeks of protests not an injury, not a beating, or a spill over were reported- will and surly shall prevail.
Monday, February 28, 2005
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
I woke the next day, after a night troubled with nightmares. I opened the TV and I still couldn’t believe that Hariri is dead. My family, my colleagues, even people on the street had this look of incredulity mixed with fear plastered on their faces…
Lebanon was sad and fearful. Beirut was closed. Monot Street and Down Town were closed. Even Beirut’s night life that never stopped during the civil war worst moments’ halted on that day and for three more days. It was suffocating. We used to go out several nights a week, after work. That week sadness crushed us.
All that sadness, anger and pressure exploded on the day of the funeral – Wednesday 16 February- Thousands, Thousands, hundred of thousands of Lebanese came from all parts of our small but heavily divided country. Muslims, Christian and Druze came to pay homage to a leader who had to die so that they knew his real worth.
The funerary procession was solemn but popular. Masses littered the streets from the house of the former Prime Minister, along the planned route of the march to the place of burial. Thousands upon thousands nothing unified them but their sadness for the death of Hariri and their anger directed towards Syria. It was a first, at least for me, that I heard Muslim crowds chanting in unison: “Syria out, Syria out”
Throughout the civil war and even before Muslims were always on the side of Syria, wrong was it or right. With the death of Hariri it was over. All Lebanon was shouting for Syria to go out.
As I walked down to the Martyr’s square – Hariri was buried on the side of that square inside a mosque he built- the most amazing site I have seen as a Lebanese welcomed me.
That square used, in the civil war, to be the playground of the militias’ snipers and shells. It was a no man’s land. Martyrs’ square used to be part of the “green line” that divided Beirut into two halves, a Muslim side on the left of the square and a Christian one on the right.
On that day echoes of the churches bells from the Christian side mingled with the reverberation of the muezzin’s chants from the Muslim side, above a square filled with Lebanese weeping for another slain national leader.
On that day Hariri’s greatest dream was made true. Lebanon’s two halves were truly united for the first time since our independence. We were once more one people…
Friday, February 18, 2005
It was agonizing!
From the moment we heard the explosion, time seemed to inch slowly forward. Information trickled gradually. First we leaned that the explosion occurred on the seafront, close to the prestigious Phoenicia hotel. A few moments later a rumor flew that the target was the HSBC branch –which was indeed close to the place of the explosion-
The local TV networks started showing the first images from the explosion’s site. It was a war zone. Debris littered the street. Several cars were ablaze. Corpses were scattered around the place. However no word on who or what was the target.
An image will forever stay engraved in my mind. A poor man –who latter was identified as a paramedic, who accompanied Mr. Hariri’s motorcade- was being burned alive. He was still in the car, a big blue suburban ablaze and he burned. Flames engulfed his head, his arms. It was horrible; he weakly moved his hands, calling for help perhaps. And he burned and burned…
Somehow that poor man pushed himself half out of the still burning car, while a bystander rushed to his side screaming “get me water, get me water!” Water never came. The bystander got his jacket off and started dosing the burning man. Later, the paramedic was transported to the hospital where he died a couple of days later.
The images never stopped, bodies and severed limbs. And after 20 minutes we got a call. Hariri’s motorcade was passing when the blast went off.
I am certain now that when my colleague spoke those words, deep down I knew Hariri was dead. But man is always hopeful, clinging to hope against reasons and reality. But slowly more news came in. The official announce that Hariri’s motorcade was the target of the blast. Then the name of one of the dead was announced. It was “ Abou Tarek” one of Hariri’s oldest and most trusted bodyguards. Who seldom left his side. The horrible truth crept closer.
Everything else is a blur. Till the time the death was announced. Hariri was dead. Lebanon has just had its own 11th September.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
It began as quite a nice day, the sun shown copiously, after a dark week filled with clouds and rain. I was sitting with two colleagues of mine, in an office building close to the Lebanese American University. Which is more than kilometer away from the site of the explosion. It was 10 or 15 to one pm.
Suddenly the building shook for several seconds and a great roaring filled the air. Brought up in the our country’s darkest days, amidst the nightmare of a civil war – Lebanon had a full fledged civil war from 1975 till 1990 – I instantly knew that this was a bomb explosion. We rushed to the windows and saw a great ball of smoke billowed up from the north-east.
I feared that the explosion targeted Walid Joumblatt’s house, which was roughly situated in that direction. I was almost right, let me explain. Lately a large opposition coalition was forming up, headed by Walide Joumblatt – the leader of the Druze sect – and Rafic Hariri - the leader of the sunny sect -
This opposition was adamant about the necessity to free our country and to regain its independence and sovereignty from the Syrians. I thought the bomb targeted Walid Joumblatt but it was Rafic Hariri who died. However, more than an hour passed, before we knew that horrible truth.
From that moment till the fatidic instant we knew for a fact that Rafic Hariri is dead, I passed the longest two hours of my live. It was exacerbating, news came by bits and pieces, contradicting and incomprehensible. The TVs showed horrible image of people being burned alive. While we hoped beyond hope and reason that the former PM made it alive, every minute that passed diminished what sliver of hope we had left
Until finally what drops of hope we had left were savagely squashed, when the fatidic moment arrived and they officially announced that Rafic Hariri was dead...
To be continued
Monday, February 14, 2005
Rage fills me. Rage for my poor country that has always paid and pays still for other people ambitions and plans.
Once again when my country is on the verge of freedom. When we came so close to form a true national unity, against Syria that suffocates us, they strike again, to make sure they reign supreme…
The Syrians have once again struck. They killed Rafic Hariri.
The same people who killed Bashir Gemayl, the people who killed Kamal Jounblatt, and who tried to kill Marouan Hmadeh.
It is too much!
Time has come to rise against our people's oppressor, no our people’s murderer…
I swear these people are my enemies. No more compromise or politics. The Syrians regime and their Lebanese lackeys are my enemies.
Posted by BOB at 2/14/2005