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Half of Lebanon rallies to demand sweeping changes
Published Dec 12, 2006 9:32 AM
Dec. 11—George Bush doesn’t like what’s happening in this
small Arab country. “Hezbollah extremists are trying to destabilize
Lebanon,” he says. He claims that Syria and Iran are behind it all.
Lebanese people stream across bridge over
Shuhada Square in Beirut, Dec. 10.
Photo: Samia Halaby, Al-Awda NY
Bush is no more honest about Lebanon than he was about Iraq. What’s
happening here is a movement of the people on a scale rarely seen in history.
It is like the Palestinian Intifada or the fight against apartheid in South
Yesterday more than half of Lebanon’s four and a half million people
filled the streets around Parliament to protest the U.S.-backed regime of Fuad
Siniora. From morning on, this city’s avenues to the south were a sea of
people as hundreds of thousands walked in from the Dahye—Beirut’s
working-class southern suburbs. The highways were a slow-moving river of cars,
vans, buses and trucks bringing hundreds of thousands more from cities and
villages all over Lebanon.
The rally was the largest in 10 days of protests that began with a rally of
almost two million on Dec. 1. Since that day, thousands have been staging a
sit-in in and around the two main squares of central Beirut. They vow they will
not leave until their demands are met.
They sleep in tents, and there are more tents every night. In the evening their
numbers multiply further as thousands stream in after work and school to attend
nightly political rallies and concerts.
The protesters are women and men, adults and children. They are workers,
students, farmers, homemakers, professionals, small business people, the
self-employed and the unemployed.
In a country long divided by religion, they are Shiite and Sunni Muslims,
Orthodox and Maronite Christians, Druze and Armenians, and secular Communists,
socialists and nationalists. They are members of many political parties, labor
unions, student groups, women’s organizations. A majority of
Lebanon’s union members took part in the Dec. 10 demonstration.
‘For the first time we are together’
“Our country has been so divided by religion and region,” said
Ghada, a student from the Dahye. “For the first time we are all together;
for the first time we are meeting each other and finding out about each
Most are working class. And they all express common sentiments. They are tired
of a regime that enriches bankers and land speculators while the people get
poorer, a regime that has burdened the country’s four million people with
a $44 billion debt, half of it in just the past four years.
They are tired of a 35-percent unemployment rate that has forced hundreds of
thousands of young Lebanese to emigrate, of New York City prices in a country
where the minimum wage is $250 a month (and many earn less), of a regime that
tried to disarm the people’s resistance when Israel attacked Lebanon last
Most of all, they are tired of a government that follows the dictates of the
United States, while that country arms Israel to murder Lebanese and
Palestinians. This is a struggle for national independence.
On Thursday night, Dec. 7, tens of thousands of people filled Beirut’s
Riad Solh and Martyrs Squares to watch a televised address by Sayyid Hassan
Nasrallah, general secretary of Hezbollah and leader of the resistance against
Israeli occupation. Hezbollah’s base is among Shiite Muslims,
Lebanon’s largest and poorest group. But it won support and admiration in
all of Lebanon’s communities when it repelled Israel’s U.S.-funded
assault on Lebanon. And it continues to win support for its social and
reconstruction work in the war-ravaged communities of South Lebanon.
Hezbollah is the largest party in the National Opposition. There are many
others. These include the largely Shiite Amal Movement led by Nabih Berri, the
Free Patriotic Movement led by retired general Michel Aoun, and the Marada
Party, led by former Prime Minister Suleiman Franjieh, both Christians. The
Movement for Unity, the Democratic Party and the Struggle Movement, whose main
support is among the Druse, are also in it. Also included are the Lebanese
Communist Party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, the Peoples Democratic
Party, the Arab Democratic Party and the Movement of the People.
‘Gov’t encouraged Israeli attack’
In his speech, Sayid Hassan Nasrallah revealed that some in the ruling March 14
Coalition had encouraged the U.S.-Israeli attack on Lebanon and that the
state’s Internal Security Forces had aided Israel in its efforts to track
down the leadership of the resistance. “Can anyone accept that in a time
of war, the prime minister ordered the Lebanese Army to seize weapons being
delivered to us as we were trying to defend our country from Israeli
attacks?” He called for a pan-Arab tribunal to investigate the
He repeatedly expressed solidarity with the people of Palestine and Iraq and
warned of U.S.-backed intrigues to provoke sectarian warfare in Lebanon as it
has in Iraq.
Sayid Hassan saluted martyr Ahmad Mahmoud, who was murdered last Sunday by
supporters of the government. “When they killed Ahmed Mahmoud, they
wanted to push us to clashes,” he said. “I tell them that we refuse
civil war and discord. Our weapons have only been raised against our Israeli
But he vowed that the movement would not retreat or surrender. “The door
is open for negotiations, but we will not leave the street before achieving the
goal of saving Lebanon.”
On Friday, Dec. 8, Imam Fathi Yakka, who is Sunni, led Shiite and Sunni Muslims
in a joint prayer service. Before prayer he told worshipers, “This sit-in
will foil the American project in Lebanon just as the resistance broke the myth
of the invincible Israel during the July-August war. This massive protest can
last not only for one more week or month but for years until it defeats the
American [U.S.] plot. Lebanon will be the cemetery of the ‘New Middle
At the Dec. 10 rally Sheikh Naim Qassam, Hezbollah’s deputy general
secretary, called on “those holing up in their mansions” to hear
the voices of the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. He warned
Siniora’s regime that “U.S. support and the backing by some Arab
and Western states will be futile.”
‘Barbed wire is no protection’
Michel Aoun said, “In the few coming days, we expect to change the status
quo. And this must be the last big rally we’ll call for because in the
next one there will be no room for all the protesters. Barbed wire will no
longer protect the Grand Serail because people will move there naturally and
without any instigation.”
The Lebanese democratic movement’s demands seem modest: that Prime
Minister Siniora form a new cabinet in which the National Opposition has
greater representation. But deeper issues are clearly at stake.
This movement has alarmed not only Lebanon’s ruling parties and their
economically privileged base. It has frightened the White House and the
Pentagon, Downing Street and the Elysee Palace. The kings of Jordan and Saudi
Arabia have joined the chorus of worriers, as has Egyptian president-for-life
Mubarak, not to mention the apartheid regime in Tel Aviv.
Washington turned Iraq into a killing field in the name of
“democracy.” In the name of “peace,” it arms Israel to
starve and massacre the people of Palestine. But when the Lebanese people unite
across sectarian lines to demand democratic reform, the White House and
corporate media call them “terrorists” and
“extremists.” For the masses of poor and working class people
inside the United States, the people’s movement in Lebanon should serve
as an example.
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