Tag Archives: Lebanon

A seminal moment in Arab politics..

24 Jun

Having hung out endlessly in coffee shops with our cousins, from pretty much everywhere, I can tell you I really like the Lebanese. So I allow myself to sometimes be a little harsh on them..

In 1964 the PLO was established and set up shop in Jordan. Pretty soon we heard about “a state within a state” as the Palestinians took sort-of-sovereign control over areas and authority in Jordan. It deteriorated into a mini-war which the King nearly lost (but didn’t). The Palestinians (the PLO that is) were kicked out of Jordan in September 1970, known as Black September, and arrived in Lebanon where my story of Lebanon begins.

Fairly soon we again heard about the state-within-a-state only this time the Palestinians didn’t challenge the central authority of the Lebanese government – they never saw Lebanon as something they had a sovereign claim to. Nonetheless, the Palestinians took over vast tracts of land and authority.

Very soon we heard the Lebanese complaining that the Palestinians were being horrible to them. Syria, ostensibly at the invitation of the Lebanese, “in order to protect our brothers and sisters, the Lebanese, from those horrible Palestinians”, invaded Lebanon. Next thing you know, we heard the Lebanese moaning that the Palestinians are horrible people and the Syrians are real nasty as well.

Fast forward to 1982 and that monster, the Israeli, invaded Lebanon (never mind why). You can just imagine what went on then: “those Palestinians are horrible people and the Syrians are real nasty and those Israelis, the devil incarnate”, the Lebanese whined.

No-one cared. The opposite, in 1991 a deal was done: “all those Lebanese ever do,” said the broker “is whine and complain about how everyone is horrible. You can have Lebanon,” the Syrians were told, “in exchange for joining the Allies to throw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.”

For almost 35 years all the Lebanese did was moan and complain and whine about how everyone was being horrible to them. And no-one cared. By now both the Palestinians (the PLO that is) and the Israelis were out of Lebanon. The Syrian occupation of Lebanon continued. Till March 14, 2005. One month after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri.

On March 14, 2005 hundreds of thousands of Lebanese (some say as many as a million) descended on downtown Beirut and said something fascinating: “We’re not complaining or whining or bitching anymore. We’re taking responsibility for ourselves. And we want the Syrians out of Lebanon.”

The very next day presidents, prime ministers and kings of endless countries picked up the phone to Assad and told him to get the hell out of Lebanon. Within days Syria was out. Yes, they left behind intelligence assets but effectively they were gone.

It took the Lebanese 35 years to figure it out. First came taking responsibility for themselves. Then people cared and support came.

March 14, 2005 was perhaps the first time in modern Arab politics that an Arab populace took responsibility for itself. This was a seminal moment in modern Arab politics, a foundation stone for the Arab Spring more than five years later.

Note: It wasn’t exactly March 14th! It started with Rafic Hariri’s assassination and continued for some weeks but the period took on the name of a moment: March 14, the day of a massive demonstration marking one month since Hariri’s death. Poetic license..

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