A month after the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri, nearly one million Lebanese took to the streets of Beirut to demand accountability from those responsible for his murder. The demonstration – by far the largest in Lebanese history – drew a crowd that represented virtually every faction of this unique multi-cultural society. From the north and the south and from the mountains, hundreds of thousands streamed into the capital to demand ‘THE TRUTH’. Traffic jams prevented tens of thousands from further swelling the ranks of the crowd.
Those who organized the event insisted that protesters fly only the Lebanese flag and carry signs and pictures honoring the memory of Rafiq Al-Hariri. The theme of the gathering was "Freedom, Sovereignty and Independence". Christians, Muslims and Druze marched together in a show of national unity that is unprecedented in Lebanese history.
Contrary to reports in the American media, there was virtually no signs expressing Anti-Syrian sentiments. As the Beirut Star reported "The majority of speakers, including Bahia Hariri made it crystal clear that Lebanon must maintain good relations with Syria in the aftermath of a full and immediate withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence services. She also reached out to Hizbullah and those who care about Lebanon first and power second, to join the opposition and help as she put it "rebuild Lebanon". She also reassured Hizbullah that its role as a resistance group will never be under threat from the opposition."
All the speakers promised that they would never retreat to the tribalism and factionalism that led to the outbreak of a bloody civil. As Bahia Hariri put it "we will never go back to ground zero and we will never repeat 1975".
A young woman interviewed by Al Mustaqbal – the Hariri owned media outlet – said something that probably reflected the universal sentiments of the crowd. "Your grand-father might have killed my grand father. And my father might have killed your father. God have mercy on their souls. But our generation wants to build an independent Lebanon where we can all co-exist in freedom and liberty." This young crowd was demanding a truly free Lebanon – free of domination by Damscus, free from Israeli invasion, free from American intervention and free from the burden of the fatricidal history of previous generations.
Concrete demands were made by the crowd. They wanted an international investigation to determine who killed Rafiq Al Hariri. They had no confidence in the Lebanese security and intelligence officials who are currently conducting the investigation and insisted on their immediate resignation. They focused their anger on Emile Lahoud and asked him to step down. Many demonstrators carried signs that stated ‘take him with you when you go’.
As far as this crowd was concerned – Damascus was no longer the problem and Syrian troops were packing their gear and leaving. The new question was how to deal with the Lebanese government of Emile Lahoud which was denounced as a government run by intelligence operatives and security agents. They didn’t just want to be free of Syrian troops – they wanted an independent Lebanon with a vibrant democracy that accommodated and promoted the political participation of every citizen regardless of his faith tradition or ethnicity.
All the speakers praised the southern Shiite resistance that forced Israel to withdraw from Lebanese soil. Some of them praised Chirac. Bush was not mentioned and Israel was roundly denounced. They all called for national unity and extended their hands to those who had demonstrated on Riad el Solh square to demand that the Syrians be allowed to withdraw in dignity. After the march, both Hizbollah and Amal reciprocated by praising the marchers and the positive keynote speech delivered by Bahia el Hariri.
By all accounts, this was a day that will go down in Lebanese history. It will be a lesson taught to every Lebanese child for generations to come. This will be the story of how the Lebanese came together and developed a consensus on what path to follow now that the Syrians are leaving. Far from being an anti-Syrian march – it was a post-Syrian rally to determine the shape of the new Lebanon. It was not meant to be a show of force by one faction against another – but a call to unity and common purpose.
It is unfortunate that the American media continues to portray the events in Beirut as a face off between pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian camps. Rather, it is a struggle to redefine what it means to be "100% Lebanese’ after fifteen years of civil war, after eighteen years of heroic resistance against Israeli occupation and after decades of Syrian domination. This kind of misreporting might serve a Bush administration on the prowl for any political dividend that can justify the mess in Iraq. It could also be a classic CYA operation to ward off some of the latent guilt about the quagmire in Baghdad that has cost so much in blood and treasure. No one should forget that these very same media outlets actively agitated for the invasion of Iraq.
The Lebanese masses poured into the streets of Lebanon to display their fidelity to Rafiq Al Hariri and his progressive and enlightened vision. They wanted "THE TRUTH". As for the American media, they were simply looking for another way to spin the disaster in Iraq.